In the heat of the summer when tomatoes are lush and warm and cucumbers are cheap and numerous, I make a lot of Greek salads. Sometimes there are lovely smoky hot peppers and other times a few clean, green bell peppers suffice. Feta makes an appearance if I have it. Crumbled cotija cheese is a fine substitute. Leftover salmon or chicken might get thrown in.
The other day I saw something somewhere about Israeli salad and, while it’s similar to traditional “Greek” salad, it has lots of lemon and often includes mint and/or other fresh herbs. When I read the words, “Israeli salad,” I just had to have some. I like mine with cheese, but many people also add nuts or seeds. Some never add cheese so that the salad is pareve–doesn’t contain dairy or meat– or so that it’s vegan. Whichever way you choose, I think you’ll be happy and full.
My favorite little bit about Israeli salad (which is served at many meals in Israel including breakfast) comes from legendary blogger David Lebovitz, who had Israeli food writer Maya Marom write a guest post about the salad after his return to Paris from a trip to Israel. Maya tells us there just aren’t any rules about making the salad as far as ingredients go:
The very bare essentials – which are, just like everything else in Israel, up for discussion – are cucumbers, tomatoes, and onion. The rest is up to your liking, and the amount of chopping patience you have. Just a handful of raw vegetables, finely chopped (“dak dak”) and well-dressed (just olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice), will make a tasty bowlful of goodness. Great as a side, or on its own as a light meal.The only rule of chopped salad is this: There are no rules. Use whatever vegetables you can find. It doesn’t really matter which kinds you put in, as long as they’re fresh, well chopped, and at room temperature. (Vegetables straight from the fridge tend to taste a little dull).
You can also look at–the photos are great– (or read if you read Hebrew) Maya’s blog here.
My own version of the salad, which often is made larger or fuller with the addition of fresh greens like spinach or arugula, includes Israeli couscous (pearl couscous), which is a very quick cooking small, round pasta that looks a bit like large tapioca. If I have fresh fish like tuna (see cook’s notes), I grill it, slice it, and add it on top with another big spritz of lemon. For a dinner party, a large platter of the salad with a few sliced grilled fish fillets (or poached shrimp if, like me, you don’t keep kosher) is an easy main that can mostly be made ahead. Serving it at room temperature means you can sit and have a glass of wine with your friends instead of standing at the stove or grill. The leftover salad makes for great, healthy lunches or is perfect stuffed in pita. Do taste and re-season if you serve it the next day as you would any refrigerated dish. This particular bowlful contained fresh oregano as well as parsley only because it was that or sage, which didn’t scan for me.
Since this makes a significant amount of food, remember you can halve it. My advice, however, is to invite a few friends and share this meal.
ISRAELI COUSCOUS SALAD
6-8 servings See notes for GF and vegan versions, as well as an idea for adding grilled tuna.
- 1 cup uncooked Israeli (pearl) couscous
- 1 1/4 cups boiling water
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 2 English cucumbers, diced
- 3 small tomatoes, seeded and diced (cut in half and squeeze seeds out; chop rest)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, reserve a bit for garnish
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
- 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
- 4 green onions, minced (green and white parts)
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1/3 cup chopped feta cheese, reserve a bit for garnish
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
- Juice of one lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
- Crushed red pepper