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
- 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)
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.