Cucumbers. Eggplant. Tomatoes. Peppers. Onions. I wondered, after eating these vegetables every day, sometimes many times a day while in Israel, how I never tired of them and of the salads they composed.
Was it the quality of the produce? Well, yes, but there was always a feeling that there was a harmonious relationship between the food, the place and me. True, the produce was always grown within a very few miles of where I was eating it, but it is significant that these are the foods, along with lemons, oranges, olives, figs and pomegranates, that have been cultivated in the Middle East and in Israel for nearly three millennia.
It's therefore interesting that the myriad of salads created daily in Israel, made from recipes that have been developed over countless trials and put on hundreds of thousands of tables over the centuries, remain beautifully and deliciously simple. Simple, so the clear flavors of all the ingredients can be distinctly appreciated without your palate becoming tired or jaded.
This approach to salad making works so well that it's easy to make several salads for one meal and find each more delicious than the last. And ' two more pluses ' our Pacific Northwest summer produce is here and it's easy to buy delicious, local and organic food at the Farmer's Markets that have popped up in almost every neighborhood. So go out and buy some wonderful Northwest summer produce, grab these recipes, get out in the sun, and enjoy!
Here are a series of eggplant salads that, even if you think you don't like eggplant, you are assured to fall for their succulent lightness.
Have a happy, fresh and simple summer, Israeli style!
Basic Eggplant Salad
This simple mashed roasted eggplant dish is used to make the following three salads, just by varying the additions.
About 2 lbs. large dark eggplants
1/4 cup olive or sunflower oil
Fresh lemon juice, or white vinegar, depending on taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 cloves peeled garlic, crushed then chopped (optional)
Roast the eggplants in their skins on a charcoal grill or on a baking pan under the broiler, turning often, until the skins are charred black all over.
When completely soft, black and caved in, remove from heat and put immediately onto a cutting board. Place the cutting board over the sink and slit the eggplants open, using a sharp knife. Tilt the board so the liquid inside will run off into the sink. When cool enough to handle but still warm, use the knife to remove the peel and the large seeds.
The consistency of the salad depends on the method used for 'pulping' the eggplant: Mashing it with a fork or pressing it through a potato masher produces a thick, pulpy mixture. Placing it in a food processor results in a smooth puree. Or it can be mashed with a large spoon or with the back of a knife for a result somewhere in between.
When mashed, place the eggplant in a bowl and slowly add the oil, stirring constantly to blend in well.
Add the lemon juice, freshly ground pepper, fresh garlic (if using) and kosher salt to taste. The oil and seasonings should be added while the eggplant is still warm.
Eggplant Salad with Onion and Tomato: To the basic recipe above add:
2 Tbs. chopped sweet onion
(or 3 Tbs. chopped green onions)
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 Tbs. roughly chopped fresh parsley
Cured black olives to garnish.
Eggplant with Feta: Add 1 cup crumbled feta cheese to the recipe above, stir in gently and serve warm.
Eggplant with Peppers: Roast 4 sweet red peppers and 1 or 2 hot green peppers under the broiler until their skins are blackened all over.
Place in a covered bowl for 20 minutes, then scrape off their blackened skins, cut open, and scrape out the seeds and membranes.
Chop the peppers fine and add to one recipe of Basic Eggplant Salad with 1 Tbs. of white vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
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A 'leftover' salad in Arab kitchens, fatouch incorporates leftovers from other meals as well as ingredients at hand. Stale pita is broken into small pieces and added to absorb the flavors of the lemon, olive oil, mint and pomegranate juice. I've suggested using pitted local cherries instead of pomegranate seeds to take advantage of the fruits of our summer!
This is a great way to use some of the mint taking over your (or your friends' or neighbors') garden. If no mint is available, use fresh basil or dill in smaller quantities. Also, this salad lends itself naturally to the addition of cooked chicken or fish ' halibut is especially good ' or hard-boiled eggs and feta to make it a light main course.
Fatouch Pita Vegetable Salad
3 to 4 firm ripe medium-sized tomatoes
2 to 3 young cucumbers
1 medium sweet onion, diced small
or 3 green onions, sliced
1 to 2 small hot peppers, sliced very thin
1/2 cup chopped mint leaves
(or 1/4 cup chopped basil or dill)
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice and grated peel of 1 large lemon
2 stale or toasted pita breads
1 clove peeled garlic, split
Seeds of 1 pomegranate or
1/2 lb. local cherries, pitted and chopped
Salt to taste
Chop the tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and peppers, transfer to a large bowl and sprinkle with mint leaves.
Grate the lemon peel and add. Squeeze the lemon juice over the salad. Add the oil with a generous amount of salt and mix well.
Split the pitas, rub the inside with the cut surface of the garlic clove, tear into bite-sized pieces, and toss into the salad. Add the pomegranate or chopped cherries and mix well.
Serve immediately or set aside for 30 minutes or so before serving to let the flavors blend.
Serves 2 to 3 as a main course
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Though Ashkenazi Jews in Israel often make a potato salad with apples, pickles, onions and mayonnaise that's German in origin, Christian Arabs in Israel prefer a simpler version dressed with the now-familiar lemon juice and olive oil. Substitute mild green or red peppers for the small hot green ones if your heat tolerance is low.
Middle Eastern Potato Salad
4 new red potatoes, cooked in boiling water till tender, cooled
1 to 2 spicy small green peppers (or
substitute 1/2 mild green or red pepper)
1 clove garlic, crushed
Juice of 1-1/2 large lemons
1/3 cup high quality olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
1/2 cup chopped parsley or mint leaves
2 green onions, chopped fine
Slice the potatoes fairly thin. Remove the stem and seeds of the pepper and slice thin, or chop into small pieces. Mix in all the other ingredients and let marinate for an hour or more. Taste for salt and serve.
4 servings as a side