There’s nothing more debilitating to a food blogger than having no appetite. And frankly, in this oppressive summer heat, not only have I not wanted to cook, I haven’t even wanted to eat. I have a theory that when your body needs less energy to warm itself, you don’t need as many calories. I wonder if science backs me up.
In fact, one of the few things I’ve been eating as of late are Israeli salads. Some people call them Arab salads (it’s all politics, ultimately), while in Hebrew, they’re often simply called chopped salads.
The base is always the same — little chopped cubes of tomatoes and cucumbers. That’s the basic salad you get at falafel shops. In order for cucumbers and tomatoes to carry an entire salad, they have to be fresh and ripe. Now that it’s summer, you can expect to find plenty of these — the cucumbers here are no longer greenhouse-grown, and the tomatoes are bright red and juicy — as they were once, people like to say. Americans, read: No tomatoes picked green and unripe, and then transported two weeks. That will make your salad taste like cardboard.
Once you’ve got your base, you can dress it up with all sorts: Chopped onion, red or green pepper, and a wide assortment of herbs, including parsley, chives, garlic chives and mint. If you want a more Italian feel, try basil, oregano or marjoram. Mimi recently introduced me to purslane (a.k.a. regelah in Hebrew, and also known as rejlah, its Arabic name); juicy and lemony, it grows in the street, but I prefer to buy it from my greengrocer. Sometimes I like to grate some salty cheese on top, like feta, Bulgarian or jibneh (a sheep’s cheese).
Then comes the dressing — juice of a fresh lemon, and a generous swirl of top-quality olive oil. The resulting salad is rich, flavorful, and bursting with life.
For one chopped salad:
2 ripe tomatoes (say, 160 grams, for those who like precision)
2 crisp cucumbers (Israeli size — about 120 grams)
juice of 1 small lemon (say, 1 tablespoon)
a generous swirl of good olive oil (1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons)
salt, to taste (my taste is 1/4 teaspoon; I like using kosher salt or sea salt, which has larger grains)
- A ring of purple onion
- Half a bell pepper
- Small handful of fresh herbs including: parsley (say, 1 tablespoon), chives or garlic chives (1 tablespoon), garlic chives and mint (1 teaspoon)
- Or, about 1 teaspoon of any of the following herbs: oregano, zaatar, marjoram and basil
- 2-3 stalks of purslane, both leaves and stems; about 1/4 cup
- A few gratings of white, salty cheese, such as feta, Bulgarian or jibneh
- Freshly ground pepper
Chop the vegetables into small cubes. Dice the herbs. Mix it all together, and season with salt, pepper (optional), the lemon juice and the olive oil. Enjoy.