The finest flavors of the Mediterranean shine in this humble dish.
This is the salad you’ll see at every falafel stand, standing in big bowls for customers to spoon over their hot falafel. It’s also served in hotel breakfast buffets. It’s a homey, simple, flavorful salad that everybody loves, so much part of home cooking, that when people say, “I chopped a salad,” you understand what they’re talking about right away. It means that they spent 10 minutes chopping, then set a bowl of Israeli salad on their table; a composition of colorful vegetables made silky with superb Israeli olive oil and tangy with fresh lemon juice.
I often eat this salad for breakfast, with cottage cheese or a hard-boiled egg on the side. Add some hummus in a little separate plate, with a fresh pita, and it’s lunch. Perfect in hot weather, but just as comforting and delicious any season.
Each family makes it their own way. Some prefer paper-thin slices of onion for a kick; some like the milder flavor of scallions. Some put in plenty of fresh mint, and some leave mint out altogether. Within certain limits, you can vary the ingredients, and their quantities, as you like. Make it with more tomatoes than cucumbers, if you want, or the reverse. It’ll still be Israeli salad.
What are the limits? Well, don’t make it fancier with croutons or cheese or tuna. That will make great salad, but it wouldn’t be Israeli salad; it would be another salad altogether. The basic ingredients – cucumbers, tomatoes and parsley – are what make the salad. The dressing, as you’ll see, couldn’t be simpler.
For children and fussy teenagers, you can just chop the cukes and tomatoes, and add the parsley. A little salt, lemon juice and olive oil, and that’s it. Adults usually enjoy a more varied and interesting version, with herbs and added vegetables. But watch out – there’s the great texture debate.
Many insist that the vegetables be chopped finely – “Microscopic!” a friend likes to say. Others prefer their veggies in larger chunks. My family prefers Israeli salad chopped fine. The advantage of that is not only an enjoyable, bite-sized texture, but also that you get more of the delicious fresh juices in the bottom of the bowl. My grandchildren love the salty leftover juice and ask me to pour it into little cups so they can sip it up. How wise kids’ instincts are – so much of the vegetable nutrients are in that flavorful elixir.
Optional ingredients listed below still fall into the traditional category. The basic recipe serves 4, but when you add optional vegetables, the salad grows to 6 servings.
- 2 medium cucumbers
- 2 medium tomatoes
- Green parts of 2 scallions
- 1/2 cup parsley, measured before chopping
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, measured before chopping
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 carrot, grated
- 2 baby radishes, sliced thin
- A few thin slices of red onion, separated into rings
- 1/4 cup pitted, sliced green or black olives
- 1/2 to 1 bell pepper of any color, chopped fine
- 1/4 cup arugula leaves, measured before chopping
- 1/2 cup very fresh, crisp lettuce, measured before chopping
Chop the cucumbers and tomatoes finely. Place in a medium-sized bowl.
Chop parsley and herbs very finely. Mix into the cucumbers and tomatoes.
Add optional vegetables.
Drizzle olive oil over the salad. Squeeze the half-lemon over it. Sprinkle salt over the salad and mix.
Tip: If using lettuce, slice it into thin ribbons. Add just before serving, and mix it in gently.