Arabic salad

This is a very simple, fresh Palestinian salad that I grew up with, made in exactly the same way by my grandma, dad, aunties and now me, my sisters and cousins. My son is almost 2 and this is definitely on the cards for his next cooking ‘lesson’. Hummus was a massive, if messy success.

It is perfect for summer, especially with beautifully ripe tomatoes. Typically we eat this salad at breakfast as part of a spread (olives, eggs, labneh, za’atar, bread, olive oil etc) but it is also great for barbecues or to go with rice dishes.

There are many slight variations on how to make an Arabic salad. My families version I will say straight away is the most labour intensive of them all in terms of the tomato skin having no place in it, nor large lumps of anything. It should have an almost salsa like quality with everything melding together and lots of lemony, olive oil residue for dipping the bread into.

I am not a fan of the versions with unpeeled tomato, even cucumber (which has no place in this salad) and unwieldy chunks of parsley. I have unfortunately eaten this version in some restaurants and seen it in some books. It is the gold standard for an Israeli salad (which I am not sorry to say I refer to as a lazy Arabic salad). I am very happy for this unimpressive version to be appropriated.

For the millions of Palestinians who are refugees, who live under occupation in the West Bank or live in Israel as its Palestinian minority, the passing on and teaching of recipes, the preparation of food and the sharing of a collective food memory (arguing about the right way to make something basically) with family and friends is a way to tie the past and the future together and root oneself to a still living memory as a people with a land, collective identity and the freedom to move and travel amongst different areas and communities.

All that is now an impossibility. People are cut off from their families and loved ones by walls, ID cards and military borders, which are hard if not impossible for many to cross.

The new prime minister is the former leader of a Jewish settler group and is very open about his desire to annex huge swathes of the West Bank and create enclaves for Palestinians controlled by Israel. Extremism has made its way to the highest position of power. It is the mainstream. The current reality in the West Bank is already as per Naftali Benett’s vision though and has been in the making for decades. It was just more obscured by platitudes of peace.

I always think of the words written on the wall in the West Bank, ‘to exist is to resist’. So lets exist and make salad.

Utensils

Sharp knife

Large bowl

Serrated peeler (optional)

Grater (optional)

Food processor (optional)

Time – if chopping everything by hand then approximately an intensive 30 minutes plus 30 minutes salad resting time.

Serves – 4

Ingredients

1 bunch of fresh parsley (approx 100g)

1 white onion

4 /5 ripe tomatoes (approx 600g)

2 lemons

1-2 tsp salt

100 ml extra virgin olive oil plus extra for serving

Method

First the tomatoes – either roughly grate them on the largest side of your grater (quick way) into a bowl and discard the skin.

Alternatively you can skin the tomatoes with a serrated peeler or plunge them in hot water for a few minutes and then pull off the skins very easily. Chop to a very fine dice.

Peel the onion, halve it and chop to a very fine dice (or use the food processor) but use the pulse setting so that you can monitor it and the onion doesn’t turn to mush. Add to the bowl containing the tomatoes.

Finely chop the bunch of parsley. Again you can chop in the food processor on the pulse setting monitoring it so that as mentioned above it doesn’t turn to pulp. For hand chopping; bunch the parsley as tightly together as possible with your non chopping hand and slice through the tight bunch of parsley cross ways and as close to your fingers as you dare. If it it not fine enough go over it with a knife a few times chef style.

Mix the parsley into the tomato and onion. Add the juice of 2 lemons, 1 tsp salt, 100ml of olive oil and mix well. Taste for salt and add extra as required / to your taste. I personally find that 2 tsp of salt is the right amount; it may sound a lot but it brings out all the flavours and makes them ‘zing’.

Let the salad sit for at least 30 minutes and then before serving drizzle on the rest of the olive oil and fold it in with a spoon.

This keeps very well overnight in the fridge unlike most fresh salads

Enjoy with plenty of fresh bread to dip into the lovely tomatoey / olive oil juices

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