Israeli Salad

This week I want to introduce you to Israeli Salad, a dish that is ever-present in my kitchen. It’s easy to make, inexpensive, and surprisingly delicious. In summer, I serve it alongside grilled fish or kebabs. In colder weather, I use it as a healthy side to lighten up heavy meals. I also serve it with breakfast sometimes, it goes great with an herby egg and cheese omelette!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Israeli Salad, here’s a little background. It evolved from a Turkish salad known as shepherd’s salad – coban salatsi, which is closely related to a Persian salad known as salad shirazi, named for the ancient city of Shiraz. The salad is known under different names with slight ingredient variations throughout the Middle East. When Jews began making aliyah to Israel in the late 1800′s, coban salatsi from Israel’s Turkish neighbors became popular on the kibbutzim (communal agricultural collectives) because of the simple, easy-to-grow ingredients– cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and parsley. Over time, ingredients were added or taken away, but the basic components remained the same: cucumbers and tomatoes dressed in olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. The vegetables are always diced; the size of the pieces varies depending on personal preference. Some cooks prefer to dice the vegetables very small, a practice that started in the Ottoman Empire. Other cooks prefer a more chunky texture. I like it both ways.

Though this salad has different names throughout the Middle East, my family refers to it as Israeli salad because of my husband’s Sephardic background. It is a refreshing side dish that compliments all kinds of main dishes. It is low in calories, dairy-free, and can be served with any meal– even breakfast! Each ingredient in the salad has unique health benefits. Fresh Persian cucumbers (peel on) are fat-free, full of water, and a good source of fiber. Fresh tomatoes provide Vitamin C, A, and cancer fighting lycopene (organic tomatoes provide up to three times the lycopene of non-organic!). Onions are rich in chromium, a trace mineral that helps cells respond appropriately to insulin. Onions can lower blood sugar levels, and they’ve also been shown to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Fresh parsley is a great source of Vitamin K.  It also contains Vitamins C and A, Folate, and anti-oxidants. Lemon juice is full of Vitamin C, antioxidants, and potassium.  It’s also a natural diuretic. Olive oil provides a healthy dose of MUFA’s (mono unsaturated fatty acids) and can help with digestion.

One of the main ingredients in Israeli salad is Persian cucumbers. Smaller and sweeter than English cucumbers, they are great for snacking.  Here’s what they look like:

Cute, huh? I’m a big fan of these little guys.  :)

Unfortunately, some grocery stores only carry Persian cucumbers seasonally, and some don’t carry them at all. If you can’t find Persian cucumbers, you may substitute English cucumbers—those are the long thin ones wrapped tightly in plastic. Avoid using regular fat cucumbers, as they are coated with wax and prone to bitterness.

Persian cucumbers have lots of little seeds, which add to their flavor. If you have trouble digesting seeds, you can seed the cucumber easily by slicing it in half lengthwise and scooping out the seed-filled center.

This week, I’ll be giving you some of my creative variations on Israeli Salad. I try to use seasonal produce in my cooking, and I often experiment with whatever looks freshest in the vegetable section or at the farmer’s market. Adding seasonal or regional ingredients can really “spice up” your Israeli Salad.

Before I get into variations, here’s a recipe for a simple Israeli Salad. I don’t like raw onion, so I often make mine without. Our family enjoys it both ways. Be sure to dice the vegetables small and evenly– I’ve given my tips for slicing Persian cucumbers below.

To learn more about the history of  modern Israeli salad, click here.

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Israeli Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Persian cucumbers, diced
  • 1 lb fresh ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/3 cup minced onion (optional)
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Salt to taste (I use about 1/2 tsp)
Servings: 8
Kosher Key: Pareve, Kosher for Passover
  • Here is the way I like to dice the Persian cucumbers-- it produces small, even, triangular pieces. Slice the Persian cucumber in half lengthwise.
  • Slice each half into 4 slices lengthwise, so you have 8 long, thin pieces total.
  • Hold the long, thin pieces together with one hand, and slice the bunch into very small pieces with the other hand.
  • Place the diced cucumbers into a large mixing bowl along with all the other ingredients.
  • Mix till vegetables are well coated with parsley, oil, lemon juice, and salt.
  • Best served fresh at room temperature. You can also serve chilled for a more refreshing salad.

Comments (16)Post a Comment

  1. Hi, Tori,

    In the Persian community, we call this “salad-e-shirazi.” The cucumbers are always peeled and seeded. The tomatoes are quartered and seeded. Red onion is preferred. Parsley and mint. Pepper, salt, lemon juice (although lime juice is much better) and not too much olive oil. Add dressing and allow to marinate in the frig for several hours. Then serve.

    The key to this Persian salad are the itsy bitsy teeny tiny dice of cucumber, tomato and minced red onion. The smaller the better is the rule of thumb.

    Tip for the cucumbers. Peel, cut in quarters the long way, scrape down to remove seeds. Turn the piece over and slice each quarter into thin length-wise slices, and then into really extra small dice cross-wise. For the tomatoes, after draining on paper towel, turn inside down on a cutting board and slice into thin strips in one direction, and then into extra small dice crosswise. Onion should be minced. Herbs should be washed, stems removed and leaves chopped very fine.

    Each spoon of salad should be filled with a colorful mosaic of tiny (the smaller the better!) dice of green cucumber, red tomato, pink onion and green herb.

    The major point to remember is that no matter how much you make, you’ll never have enough! If any happens to be left over – I make massive quantities – my husband eats it with breakfast. A small batch in our house runs to about 10 large-ish cucumbers, 10 tomatoes, a small red onion, and lots of parsley and mint.

    Another one I make is Hungarian in origin, Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad: 10 large cucumbers, peel, cut in quarters, seed, slice into four strips lengthwise and then into crosswise thin-ish slices. Mix with 1 TB of kosher coarse salt and place in colander to drain for about an hour. Meanwhile, heat up a cup of good white wine vinegar with one cup of sugar, along with a few whole peeled sliced garlic cloves. Let cool. Rinse cucumbers well to remove salt. Remove as much water as possible. Mix cucumber slices with dressing and refrigerate. Much better the next day. Very refreshing and quick to put together.

    1. Very interesting, Schelly. The Hungarian variation sounds intriguing!

      You’re right, when it comes to this salad, the more the better. Leftovers go great with breakfast. ;)

  2. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Dear Tori,

    I am also a proud Shiksa and I have been dating a Sephardic man who also happens to be Cuban since January. He loves to cook and I’m sure you can imagine the wonderful culinary delights I have been privileged to enjoy in the last few months!

    He loves to make a salad that is very similar to this and I love it. He puts in oregano instead of parsley and uses lime instead of lemon. He also adds cilantro and salt, which gives it a wonderfully Latin flavor.

    Thank you for posting this…I now know the secret to “the salad”.

    Yours,
    Sarah

  3. Sarah, just saw this post. Glad I could help! Lime juice and oregano sound like terrific options, I will have to try them soon. What an interesting background your boyfriend has… Cuban and Sephardic Jewish… bet he has some amazing recipes!

  4. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I really enjoyed the Sephardic Israeli Salad. In the past I have used red wine vinegar, but the lemon is really nice and fresh tasting. I am now making your Persian lamb stew. Thank you so much for posting these great recipes.

  5. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    So yummy! Husband and I tried this in Israel and loved it, came back and came to your website first thing to see if you had a recipe. Of course you did, and it tastes just like the one we ate in Israel every morning at the breakfast buffet. Thank you!

  6. Im a Turkish Jew and we have this on the table all the time but we still call it çoban salatası , i can eat a bowl of it all to myself and i usually do so my mother makes lots of it

  7. While in Israel I had this salad where they had also sliced/diced lemons in the salad, the rind was left on the lemon. As a lemon lover I went crazy over this. LOVE your blog.

  8. I am not a big fan of “lettuce” salads so this caught my eye. I mixed some up this morning…it is an hour later and I am enjoying this salad, a scoop of hummus and a soft boiled egg.

    I’m in Northwest Montana but a local hydroponic garden supplies mini-English cucumbers and grape tomatoes year round so I used those. I’m sure it will be even better this summer with fresh heirloom tomatoes. And I can see adding some kalmata olives and feta and taking it “Greek”.

    So good – Thank you, Tori!

  9. My sister in NZ emailed that she was making chicken schnitzel – wondered what this was saw your blog and realised I had made this before but not called it schnitzel so I am doing this tonight but this time with your mouth watering salad, I am in my 80’s so never too late to live and learn !

  10. Thank u for providing this site. Make Israeli salad often – one of my favorites from many trips to israel and am doing so now for a family Shabbat dinner. Will make several other things from your site – like the way you think!! Todah rabah (thank u very much), Sandi

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