Israeli Salad with Pickles and Mint

Okay, so let’s get real. The other day I was passing by a mirror and I had to pause. Around my midsection, I could definitely see the results of a little too much holiday cheer. Yup, it’s official. That dreaded holiday weight has come to visit– the fabulous five, those extra pounds that are so fun to gain and such a pain to lose.

Anybody else out there in a similar situation? Show of hands? It’s alright, you’re among friends.

Don’t get me wrong, it was totally worth it. The latkes, the moussaka, the wine, those rich, beautiful holiday desserts… wow, they were delicious. I don’t regret a single bite. But I am feeling the need to shed a few, now that the festivities are over and we’re back to reality.

So, what’s my dietary secret weapon in the battle of the post-holiday bulge?

Two words: Israeli salad.

We all know that salad is good for you. Eating those fresh leafy greens is important, but I can only chew on so much lettuce and spinach before I start feeling like a goat. But Israeli salad is different… it’s got a cold, delicious crunch that I really enjoy. Made from diced cucumbers and tomatoes, I find it much more fun to eat than a plain old leafy lettuce salad. Israeli salad has pizazz, character, attitude. It’s the hipster cousin of the salad family.

Kibbutz Hanaton, a collective farming community in the Lower Galilee, Israel

Israeli salad evolved from several similar Middle Eastern salads, including salad shirazi from Iran and coban salatsi from Turkey. When Jews began making aliyah to Israel in the late 1800′s, an Israeli version of these salads 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 veggies 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.

In our home, this salad is part of our regular meal rotation. My husband grew up eating it in Israel as a year-round addition to the breakfast, lunch, or dinner menu. Believe it or not, I especially enjoy Israeli salad in the morning. Try it on the side of your breakfast omelet instead of those greasy fried potatoes. Breakfast of champions! This stuff fills you up without adding inches to your waistline, and gives you a small dose of healthy fat if you dress it with a little extra virgin olive oil. The simple, fresh flavor compliments a variety of dishes, and just like a great pair of skinny jeans you can dress it up or down. Add heirloom tomatoes (in season) for sweetness, thinly sliced cabbage for fiber, jalapenos for heat, feta cheese for saltiness, chopped cilantro or parsley for a fresh herb flavor. There are so many possibilities!

In this version, I’ve added chopped fresh mint and diced dill pickles to the mix. It’s inspired by a salad I enjoyed at News Cafe in Miami a few weeks ago. They serve it with a green herb dressing, but I prefer it au naturale with a drizzle of olive oil and a simple splash of fresh lemon juice. If using Persian cucumbers (the very small ones), there is no need to peel them, though you can if you wish. Serve it over a bed of spring greens for extra healthy points– while Israeli salad doesn’t generally contain lettuce, News Cafe served it this way and I enjoyed it. The cold, salty crunch of pickles is a perfect compliment to the sweet tomatoes and refreshing cucumbers. Garnish with olives or peperocini, if desired. A sprinkling of fresh mint is inspired, giving it a flavor boost that will make you crave more.

Crave salad– really? Yeah, I said it. Trust me! And eat your veggies. They’re good for you. :)

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Israeli Salad with Pickles and Mint

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. Persian or English cucumbers, peeled and diced
  • 2 lbs. ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 3 large dill pickles, diced
  • 1 bunch chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 fresh lemons, juiced (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)
  • 1 cup mixed spring greens (optional)
Total Time: 10 Minutes
Servings: 4 side servings
Kosher Key: Pareve
  • Combine cucumbers, tomatoes, dill pickles and mint in a salad bowl.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Pour over the salad mixture. Toss vegetables to coat.
  • Taste the salad. Add additional salt and lemon juice to taste, if desired. Toss again before serving. Make a bed of spring greens (optional) and mound the salad on top. Serve.

Comments (71)Post a Comment

  1. This salad sounds just like one I grew up eating. I have different variations that I like, I am going to try yours. I don’t know where the salad came from in my family since I have no Middle Eastern heritage.

    I love this blog. I love learning new recipes and trying them out. Keep up the good work. Happy New Year to you and yours.

  2. My half-Jewish boyfriend just explained to me what a shiksa is and we both immediately fell in love with your blog! Your writing is so witty and engaging and your photos and recipes are lovely. Looking forward to seeing more recipes and reading through your old ones!

  3. Tori, this looks perfect! I am willing to eat a salad any time of the year! …and I’m in good company – my holiday pounds keep finding me no matter how hard I try to lose them!

  4. Don’t you have a Jewish mother-in-law now to tell you that you’re too skinny and that you should eat more and when are the grandkids coming anyway?

  5. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Have you ever tried Campari tomatoes? They are available where I live year round and they always taste great! They are more expensive and small in size but the big tomato taste makes them worth the price. I plan to use them in your recipe.

  6. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    First time I had this was the year after I graduated (1971) and was living at Kibbutz Magal. We had the salad at every table for lunch and dinner … YUMI !!!

  7. I was all drooling over the picture, then the word pickle jumped out at me and I was all “ah snap I hate pickles”. Just felt the need to share that with you. xx

    1. If you hate pickles, you can make the same salad subbing chickpeas for pickles. Use the same oil and lemon dressing. Just use a can of rinsed drained chickpeas in the salad with the tomatoes and cukes. sometimes I add chopped onion.

  8. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I have a quick question. This looks and sound delicious. A few years ago my friend’s nanny who is from Israel made the best Israeli salad I have ever tasted. She said her secret was a spice you can only purchase in Israel. Do you know what this spice is and where I can get it?

    1. Well, I’m not sure Terri, but most Israeli spices are available in the U.S. with a little searching. She may have been referring to za’atar, which is a popular regional spice, but I’ve never seen it used on Israeli salad before. Can you ask her the name of the spice? If you let me know what it is I might be able to help you track it down…

  9. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I love Israeli salad. My brother in law makes it all the time. I am going to tell him about adding mint and pickles.
    You have a great blog and I am going to add you to my favorites.

    Have a great day!

  10. Tori,
    Sorry to repeat the question, but, instead of pickles, could I use a dill pickle relish, and if so, how much?
    Our chavurah is having a pot luck and havdalah next Saturday night and I was asked to bring the salad. This will be something different and interesting.

    1. Hi Marcia– I’ve never tried it with dill relish. Most pickle relishes I’ve tried in the past are sweet, and I would not like them in this salad– it wouldn’t mesh well with the mint and lemon, I don’t think. A truly dill relish might work, if it’s not at all sweetened. Every relish is a little different, so it would be tough to say how much would work in a salad like this. Personally, I really love the crunch and texture of roughly chopped dills. But if you want to try a dill unsweetened relish and you have one that you like, start with 1/4 cup and mix it into the salad, then taste. Add more to taste, if desired. Good luck, let me know how it goes!

  11. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Love, love Israeli salad. I adapt it all the time to what is in my veggie drawer. I never thought of dill pickles tho. And will try that next time. When the kids slow down on eating carrots I usally use them up by mixing chopped carrots and black olives. (And then the oil and lemon dressing) And now I am thinking the addition of pickles would be great.

  12. I just discovered your site from a friend posting on my Facebook page. I just love the country of Israel and have been their several times in the early 80′s. I was with a church group so they didn’t severe very many Isralie foods. This salad sounds and looks to good. I live alone so how long would this salad last in the fridge? If it tastes as good as it looks I might eat it all at once….I’m like that.

    Thanks
    Cn

    1. Hi Donald! It is a very tasty salad. It will last about 2 days in the fridge, but I would recommend chopping up the mint fresh and mixing it in just before you serve each portion, otherwise the mint tends to get a little wilted/soggy. Enjoy!

  13. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    In our house, anything can go into Israeli salad, as long as the pieces are cut to the same size — but I’ve never tried fresh mint and am looking forward to including it next time. I searched your site unsuccessfully for gezer chai. That would be another great secret-weapon recipe.

  14. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    The spice referred to above that you can only get in Israel is
    Za’atar. You can get it throughout the Middle East-and online. It’s a combo of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, hyssop/wild oregano. Make sure your source has high turnover, otherwise it won’t be fresh and will have little flavor. It’s also great over cubed bulgarian cheese with a light sprinkle of EVO

  15. i love this type of salad. gonna make some but i only have romaine lettuce on hand…..mmmmmmm (salivating already), i also ha some challah to use for croutons…double yummies. thanks for the inspiration……hugs

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