A few months ago, I was invited to a pot luck lunch by a PhD friend. The guests where mainly PhD students with Middle Eastern backgrounds or some affinity to the region. If you have not cross paths with somebody from the Middle East you should know something: they are generally speaking, real born and raise foodies. And by foodies I don´t mean pretentious snobs, I mean people with a deep love for food, a good understanding of it and an outstanding appreciation for homecook dishes. So this Mexican Food Anthropologist wanted to make an impression without spending hours in the kitchen. So I decided to take a risk: I made a chopped salad.
You might think that a chopped salad is too simple to impress anybody. Well you´ll be surprised. Chopped salad is not only an extremely popular dish in the Middle East, is also a controversial one. Half of the world knows it as “Israeli salad” the other one as “Arab Salad” so depending in your politics you can call it however you want, at the end is your kitchen. In my case, I prefer to call it “my mother would be proud of you” salad, as during the lunch,A Lebanese friend complemented me by saying that ( definitely the best complement you can get after “ohh this taste exactly as my mother´s dish”).
So here you have my recipe, yes it is simple butis not exactly quick: it takes a good hour or more, depending on how much people are you cooking for and your knife skills. You will only need a good knife for this ( you want your knife to cut through the skin of a tomato easily) but if you manage to do this with an Ikea knife you have my eternal respect.
( for four as a side dish, but I really don´t know how much you eat so this is only a suggestion)
3 salad tomatoes (not too ripe)
½ red or white onion ( or more if you are an onion lover)
2 sweet peppers ( red, yellow or orange avoid the green ones)
10 small radishes
1 cucumber or 3 Middle Eastern cucumbers ( the small ones available in any good Turkish or Middle Eastern shop)
Olive oil ( as much as you want)
Lemon juice ( also as much as you want)
Zaatar ( if you want to get fancy)
You can also add olives and feta cheese although then you will be getting closer to Greece and farther away from the Levant
- Chop all the vegetables. The smaller the better, and the prouder your mom´s friend will be. You don´t know how to chop an onion? Don´t worry! You tube have really good tutorials. Put some music, I suggest Mashrou´ Leila mixed in with some Idan Raichel ( to keep your Middle Eastern politics balanced)
- Before serving mix all the ingredients with the olive oil, lemon, salt and Zaatar if you are using it. Taste it before serving and decide if you want to add anything! )That is the most important part)
- Serve it with grilled meat, pitta bread, or whatever you want. I really like this with a boiled egg for breakfast. I suggest you put the salad together the same day you are serving it as it does not keep too well.
Looking for more elaborated Middle Eastern recipes? Look for Claudia Roden´s New Middle Eastern cookbook ( she has more books about Middle East food they are all great). Buy any edition you can find, if it does not have pictures even better, you will not create unrealistic expectations about your food. Her recipes are always excellent, and her cookbooks are nostalgic and full of stories about the dishes and the people that eat them!