Talk of the Table | Simple Salads for Summer Nights

By | May 30, 2019

It’s summer, and cooking on a hot stove becomes less attractive. As temperatures soar, dinner made up of salads sounds more sensible than ever.

Israeli salad may be the first to come to mind. It’s the perfect summer dish, made with Mediterranean sunshine staples like tomato and cucumber, finely diced, together with onion, parsley, pepper, radish, and any other fresh veggie around. The more colorful the better, as each color represents a different nutritional benefit.

But the Jewish diaspora has much more to offer when it comes to salads. Fresh, wonderful vegetable combinations have immigrated to Israel with generations of Jews making aliyah from across the world and have won their place on summer-night dinner tables. Take watermelon and salted cheese salad, a combination that Bulgarian Jews brought with them. Traditionally a brined feta-like cheese called sirene is crumbled over or served with chunks of watermelon. Below is a modern take on the combination with the addition of pickled onions, pumpkin seeds and jalapeño.

Another popular salad is fattoush, a Levantine salad that uses old and dried pita bread to add volume and texture to a simple salad, much like the Italian panzanella. The pita is either grilled or fried and soaked in water and crumbled into a salad of tomato, onion and sumac.

Matbucha is a favorite Moroccan cooked salad that makes good use of the seasonal abundance of tomatoes. And while you’re by the stove (for the occasional stirring!), make a batch of Moroccan carrot salad as well.

Finally, Turkish salad of charred eggplant, tomato and red onion lets you take cooking to the grill. Enjoy it with a slice of good bread and sparkling wine for an alfresco summer meal.


Charred Eggplant, Tomato and Red Onion Salad


4 Italian eggplants | 6 medium tomatoes | 1 red onion, quartered | 2 serrano peppers | 1 lemon, halved 1/4 cup olive oil | Bunch of fresh basil leaves | Kosher salt to taste


1. Light grill to medium-high heat. When hot, arrange eggplants, tomatoes, onion, serrano peppers and lemon on the grill. Cover for 15-20 minutes until eggplants are completely soft to touch and tomatoes are nicely roasted and their skins are partly charred. Rotate vegetables 4 times. Transfer veggies to tray, let rest for 5 minutes.

2. Using your hands, gently peel eggplants and transfer their pulp into a large bowl. Peel serrano peppers, clean out seeds and transfer to bowl. Chop tomatoes with their charred skins and the onions as well and add to the bowl. Squeeze lemon on top. Drizzle olive oil, add salt and basil leaves and mix. Serve warm.


Watermelon, Feta and Pickled Onion Salad


1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced into rings | 3 tablespoons cherry vinegar (or white wine vinegar) | 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds | Pinch of salt | 6 cups watermelon in bite-size cubes | 8 oz. feta cheese 1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced | 1/4 cup mint leaves, torn


1 In a small bowl mix the red onion and the vinegar. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. In a heavy-bottom pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat and fry the pumpkin seeds for about 1 minute stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with a little salt. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.

3. Arrange the watermelon cubes on a platter; then drain the onions from the vinegar and arrange them on top of the watermelon. Crumble the feta on top and sprinkle with the fried pumpkin seeds, jalapeno and mint. Drizzle with the rest of the olive oil and serve.


Fattoush Salad

Let the pita bread stand in the open air for a few days, until all the moisture is out. If you’re ready to make the salad, but the pita is still elastic, you can toast it in a low-temperature oven of 250 degrees until it’s dry.Pomegranate syrup is available at Middle Eastern markets and some health food markets. Serves 4.


1-2 pieces of days-old and dry pita breads (3 oz.), | 3 medium tomatoes | 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 large garlic clove, minced | 1 Persian cucumber, diced | 1/4 red onion, diced | 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint 1/4 serrano pepper, finely chopped (optional) | 1 tablespoon sumac | 3 tablespoons olive oil | 2 teaspoons pomegranate syrup 1 teaspoon kosher salt


1. Break the dried pita bread into small pieces and put in a bowl. Cut the tomatoes in half and, using your hands, squeeze all the juices and seeds on top of the pita. Keep the tomatoes. Drizzle the lemon juice on top of the pita, add the minced garlic, mix well and set aside. Make sure all the pita pieces are wet. Let stand for 10 minutes.

2. Chop the seedless tomatoes into 1/2 inch cubes and put in a serving bowl. Add cucumber, red onion, mint, serrano pepper (if using) and sumac and mix. Crumble the wet pita bread into the salad. Drizzle with olive oil and pomegranate syrup and mix. Let the salad stand for another 10 minutes; this will allow the pita bread to absorb all the juices from the tomatoes.

3. Add salt, mix, adjust seasoning to taste and serve.


Moroccan Carrot Salad


2 pounds carrots | 4 tablespoons olive oil | 1 teaspoon cumin seeds | 1/4 teaspoon crushed dried chili pepper (optional) 6 garlic cloves, minced | 1 teaspoon turmeric | 2 teaspoons paprika | 1 teaspoon kosher salt 2 teaspoons tamarind paste mixed with 2 tablespoons hot water | 1/2 cup chopped cilantro


1. Boil salted water in a pot. While you wait, peel carrots and slice to 1/4-inch rounds. Cook carrots in salted water for about 9 minutes, until fork tender. Drain.

2. In a non-stick pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add cumin seeds and mix for a few seconds; add the garlic and hot pepper and mix for another minute. Add turmeric and paprika and cook for about 30 seconds while stirring; then add the carrots to the pan, stir, and add the salt and the diluted tamarind. Continue cooking for 2 minutes longer while stirring and then remove the pan from the heat.

3. Cover the carrot salad and put in the fridge overnight to enhance the flavors. Mix in the cilantro before serving.


Matbucha Salad


15 ripe peeled tomatoes or 2 cans (28 ounces) peeled tomatoes in juice | 2/3 cup light olive oil or corn oil, plus more for frying 12 garlic cloves, chopped | 4 serrano peppers (or to taste) 2 tablespoons paprika | 2 teaspoons salt


1. Chop tomatoes and keep in a bowl. If you’re using canned tomatoes, use a large knife to cut them inside the can. Set aside.

2. Put oil in a tall, heavy-bottom pot over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until just golden, and add tomatoes at once. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover with lid and cook on low simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Adjust heat to keep low simmer and make sure the matbucha does not burn at the bottom of the pot.

3. In the meantime, put a little oil in a small pan and fry serrano peppers on both sides to nicely char the skin. Transfer peppers to a small bowl and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Let peppers cool for 30 minutes, then gently peel their skin, remove their seeds, and chop.

4. After tomatoes have cooked for an hour, mix chopped serrano pepper, paprika and salt into the pot. Let tomatoes cook on low simmer for another 30 minutes, uncovered, or until the mixture is very thick and dark red in color. Adjust salt to taste.

5. Keep in a tight sealed container in the fridge up to 10 days.

Read more Jewish cocktail recipes, summer eats, and beach reads.

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