Chopped salads are ubiquitous in Israel. They’re served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, at homes and restaurants from the most lowly falafel stand to some of the country’s finest gourmet establishments. Variations are abundant, but the base of this salad is consistent – finely chopped tomatoes and cucumbers.
This dish goes by several names – Israeli salad, Arab salad, and often simply chopped salad.
But Israeli salad isn’t particularly unique to Israel, and the practice of declaring it the national salad isn’t unique to Israel, either.
Diced salads in one form or another have been popular throughout the Middle East for millennia, and date back to the time of the pharaohs, as food historian Gil Marks wrote in his book “Olive Trees and Honey.”
These salads have been warmly embraced in countries throughout the region. The evolution of the dish was influenced by the import of new world vegetables, such as bell peppers but namely tomatoes, which likely made their way to the region as recently as the late 19th century.
In many places, the citizens make their own variation of this basic cucumber and tomato salad and name it after their country. In Syria such salads are called “salatat al-khudra” – vegetable market salad. Various Greek names for a similar dish translate as vegetable market salad, country salad and Greek salad, as Gil Marks explains. The Iranian version is called Persian salad or Shirazi salad. The salad is ubiquitous among Palestinians as well, who call it “salatat al-bandura” – tomato salad.
In Israel, this salad was originally adopted by kibbutzim, where it became a staple of breakfasts alongside eggs, bread and cheese, before the days of boxed cereal. It has a fine, uniform dice. Cucumbers and tomatoes are always the base, while other additions can include finely chopped red peppers, radish, onion, herbs including parsley, mint and green onion, and even root vegetables such as carrot or kohlrabi. The dressing is usually a simple drizzle of lemon, olive oil and salt.
3 Persian cucumbers (Note: Persian cucumbers are smaller than standard American cucumbers)
1/2 red bell pepper
1/4 red onion
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 lemon (2 tbsp lemon juice)
2 tbsp olive oil
Chop all ingredients into small cubes (about 1/2–1 centimeter squared) and combine in a salad bowl.
Add juice of lemon, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.