Mon 13 Apr 2009 12:36 am
A friend of mine in Israel used to argue that the country had no original ethnic cuisine beyond the infamous soy schwarma served in the college dorms, that most of the dishes we enjoyed, from Sabbath cholent to stuffed felafels, were carried over from European ancestors or borrowed from Arab residents and neighbors. It’s true that dishes that struck me as most intensely authentic during my time there were authentic versions of someone else’s food — the baklava from the Druse villages near Haifa, or the Yemenite stews at the restaurant near my bus stop in Jerusalem. The overflowing harvests of cucumbers and tomatoes that ruled so many meals came home with me only in European forms — cold gazpacho, say, or Greek salad.
It’s been years since that conversation, and it wasn’t until last week that I remembered the “Israeli salad”: Stripped-down simple, distinctive in its small dice, and ubiquitous even to the point of appearing on breakfast tables. A young cousin set out a bowl as part of lunch when we visited California last week, and it seemed distant but familiar, basic but so good we devoured every bite. It was so appealing, I think, partly because she used fresh lemon juice in it, from the ripe fruits hanging all over the backyard tree. They were so abundant, so matter-of-fact to everyone who lives in a citrus-growing climate, but so magical to those of us from colder zones. I haven’t smelled a fresh-picked lemon in so long, that alone made it feel like we were returning to a foreign land.
Several cucumbers (there were 10 small Persian cucumbers in the bowl pictured)
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Dice cucumbers, seed and dice tomatoes, and combine. Drizzle with olive oil, add lemon juice, and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste.
(Too simple for you? If you want to up the salad ante, try Smitten Kitten’s version with onion, sumac powder, and some other additions.)