[2018 Note: I’ve been making this salad my whole adult life. I share it here in 2007 and called it Israeli Salad but it could just as easily be called Arab Salad. Salads following essentially this same recipe — that is tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, lemon juice, and olive oil but no lettuce — have widespread popularity throughout the Middle East and particularly the Levant. I dreamed of going on a tomato-cucumber salad world tour in this recipe.]
First I talked about madeleines, and although they’re lovely (though mine were less so), they don’t exactly have a high originality quotient. Then I totally side-stepped my week of non-cooking by throwing some “new feature” at you, and now, well now I’m going to tell you that you can make a salad out of cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. And I know you’ve got to be thinking: you don’t say!
Although on another week–perhaps one without heaps of barbecues for all that red, white and boom spread about–I might skip over the simple Israeli Salad, I know that if you’re still looking for that easier-than-pie dish to bring to a pot-luck barbeque tomorrow, we really need to talk. Israeli Salad isn’t just as dish, as much as it is a palette to build your salad dreams upon.
Aside from tiny cubed cucumbers and tomatoes, the base salad recipe includes red or green onions, finely minced parsley, a bit of lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and if you’re me, or you just want to trust me on this, you’re going to run out this afternoon and buy some sumac powder. Not only is it the most phenomenal rusty red, adding a bold hue to any everyday salad, it’s flavor–I always think of it as a cross between sour lemon and smoked paprika–is so wonderful, it’s a shame we don’t see it in more non-Greek, non-Mediterranean dishes.
But from there, let the salad be your canvas, as the possibilities are endless. Some of my favorite additions include a can of drained chickpeas, diced bell pepper, a handful of crumbled or cubed feta or roughly chopped olives. Finely chopped fresh mint leaves are also common, but that doesn’t mean you should try dill instead, if that’s your thing. Yet if you really want to show off, my absolutely favorite addition to this salad is some broken up pita chips that have been toasted with olive oil, sea salt and either sumac or za’atar. If you make the chips, leave them separate until the very last minute because they’ll get soggy shortly after they’re tossed in. Alternately, you could make larger chips that people can use to scoop the salad directly into hungry mouths. Finger food is always the most welcome guest at barbeques. Well, after you, of course.
- 2 medium roma tomatoes, cubed
- 1 pound seedless (English) or Persian cucumbers, unpeeled, cubed
- 1/2 medium red onion or 4 scallions, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
- Juice of half a lemon, or more to taste
- 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sumac powder
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Other additions: 1/2 to 1 cup crumbled or cubed feta, 1 bell pepper, cut into cubes, 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained, 1/2 to 1 cup coarsely chopped olives, 1 to 2 tablespoons finely minced mint or dill or pita chips (see below). You could also whisk a couple tablespoons of tahini into the dressing for a thicker, sesame-coated flavor.
- 6 large pitas, cut into eight wedges each, then each wedge split into two layers (for small chips) cut into six wedges and split (for large, scoopable chips)
- Olive oil cooking spray or 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Flaky sea salt
- 1 tablespoon za’atar or sumac
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper, arrange all of the pita slices so they do not overlap. Either brush or spray with olive oil, then sprinkle with sea salt and your spice of choice. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they begin to color. Let them cool completely before using, or bagging for later.