January 30, 2018
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It’s Not Just Salad, It’s Salatim
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Meaning “salad” and served at most meals, salatim are Israel’s connective tissue.

When it comes to eating and cooking in Israel, I’ve learned that satisfaction is a dish best served cold. This is most true for salatim, a catchall term for an endless variety of spreads, dips, slaws, and salads that are the preferred opening salvo to many a meal. That is, if they don’t end up being the meal all by themselves.

Before I moved to Tel Aviv, the chance of hungry visitors dropping by my Manhattan apartment were slim to none; hell, even “spontaneous” stop-ins needed be scheduled three days in advance by calendar invite. But now that I live steps from my adopted city’s main outdoor fruit-and-vegetable bazaar, the Carmel Market, we’ve started to leave the door unlocked—people actually do drop in. And they’re always hungry.

It’s especially true on Fridays, when just about the whole city converges at the shuk and a steady stream of friends huff it up to our fourth-floor walkup seeking a cocktail, a schmooze on our balcony, and—of course—a snack.

That’s when salatim really prove their mettle, allowing me to serve up a spread of instant hospitality without killing my Friday vibe. Why? Because they’re pretty much always made in advance. In five minutes flat, after pulling sundry containers from my fridge, plating them and garnishing them with olive oil and herbs, I can be feeding people an interesting collection that might include Moroccan matbucha—its roasted peppers and tomatoes glistening like jewels—and Ashkenazi chopped liver (Sephardim are also really into it, too!). There could be cooked or raw carrots that combine some acid and spice and salt, or an Israeli salad of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers—with lemony juices, pooled at the bottom of the plate, that usually end up tipping into a mouth like the last dregs of a bowl of chicken soup.

And that’s just the beginning. Like the many different ethnic groups and religions that live here in close quarters, salatim can initially seem like strange bedfellows that in other circumstances might not mix—but manage to support one another beautifully on a crowded tabletop.

It happens both at home and at grill restaurants like Itzik Hagadol, where an onslaught of up to 25 salatim can appear in an instant, the exact number depending on the waiter’s assessment of your ability to clean plates while still leaving room for the skewers and steaks ahead. And unlike in the States, there’s no hip server in a leather-tipped apron reminding you that the “plates are recommended for sharing.” (How do you say duh in Hebrew?)

“Salatim are the ultimate way to show that there’s nothing lacking on your table,” Amit Aaronsohn, a Tel Aviv–based food writer and fan of Itzik Hagadol’s selection, tells me. “They project abundance.”

The author in her Tel Aviv kitchen.

So I keep my home fridge stocked with a rotating selection, some inspired by the day’s market haul, others based on ideas I’ve cribbed from restaurant favorites. My favorites at Itzik Hagadol these days are the cinnamon-laced eggplant studded with green pepper and tomatoes that remind me of the stuffed aubergines I’ve had in Turkey, and a dead-simple, three-ingredient carrot salad that’s as refreshing as they come.

At Habasta, our regular neighborhood joint where you can see the shuk’s market stalls from tables set on the cobblestone streets, the salatim are just as satisfying, if a bit more modern. Masabacha, typically a dip of warm chickpeas, is reinterpreted as a mash of cooked Jerusalem artichokes and almonds topped with minty, lemony, intentionally overcooked green beans.

“A meal here is a communal experience,” says Elon Amir, Habasta’s chef, who as a child would sit down to at least seven salads made by his Moroccan mother in the southern city of Beersheva. “Many people order a bottle of wine and a few small starters, and then they just keep adding, and before you know it they’ve made it a meal of it,” he says.

I can hardly think of anything better.

Ingredients

  • 1 small or ½ large cauliflower (about 1½ pounds)
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ teaspoon finely minced hot fresh chiles (or chile flakes)
  • ¾ cups labneh yogurt

Cauliflower is often deep-fried for salatim. Here it’s oven-roasted, doused in lemon, and spread on top of tangy labneh yogurt, Israel’s answer to Greek yogurt.

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  2. Cut the core and stem away from the cauliflower; then, using your hands, separate the cauliflower into small florets (about ½ inch or smaller) and place in a medium bowl. Zest half the lemon into the bowl, then squeeze the juice of half the lemon into the bowl and add the 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Pour the cauliflower mixture onto a large rimmed baking sheet, spreading it out evenly. Roast until the underside is quite crisp and the edges are almost blackened, 20 minutes.
  4. Reduce the temperature to 425°F, open the oven, stir the cauliflower, scatter the pine nuts on top, and return to the oven until the pine nuts are golden, about 5 minutes.
  5. Remove the pan from the oven, scrape the mixture into the bowl you used to mix the cauliflower, then add the parsley and chiles. Grate in the zest of the other half of the lemon. Spread the labneh on a plate, then pour the warm cauliflower mixture on top. Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and squeeze with more lemon juice, if desired.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 pound eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 (6-oz) zucchini, trimmed, halved, and sliced into thin half-moons
  • 1 small green pepper, seeded and diced
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¾ pounds very ripe tomatoes, cored and diced
  • ¼ cup water

Warm spices in savory food are something I’ve come to love. The cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and coriander that punctuate this silky, savory salad are all ingredients in Baharat, a seasoning blend that inspires Arab-Israeli, Israeli, and Palestinian chefs alike.

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Toss the eggplant in a large bowl with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper and cook, stirring, until the eggplant begins to brown on all sides, 10 minutes.
  2. Add the zucchini and pepper and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften and the eggplant slumps, 10 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato paste, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, and sugar and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant and the tomato paste begins to caramelize, 2 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are very soft and the tomatoes have cooked and blended into the eggplant, 15 more minutes. Stir in the remaining teaspoon of salt and cool to room temperature.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and thinly sliced into rings
  • 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Sprinkle of sumac, if desired

Moroccan carrot salad—cooked carrot coins tossed with harissa—is better known, but this one is easier, crunchier, and more refreshing—a welcome counterpart to richer salatim. Feel free to use limes instead of lemons, but make sure to use the firmest carrots you can find. If you have a julienne peeler it will make gorgeous carrot ribbons, but a plain old box grater will do.

  1. Toss the carrots, jalapeños, and lemon juice in a large bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with sumac, if using.

Ingredients

  • Masabacha
  • ¼ cup lemon juice, divided
  • ¾ pounds Jerusalem artichokes
  • ¾ pounds blanched almonds
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup water, plus more if needed
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • Green Beans
  • ½ pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • ⅓ cup lemon juice
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup water
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 large sprig mint, plus more for garnish
  • Chopped toasted almonds for garnish

You can’t go to Habasta and not order this small plate, which has become signature dishes that chefs Maoz Alonim and Elon Amir claim they’re now unable to remove from the menu. When I asked if the recipe was proprietary, Alonim’s answer was welcome: “Nothing we do is a secret: Enjoy it, and just do it well.” Rich with nuts and olive oil, a little bit goes a long way. The Jerusalem artichokes you find in season here are thick and easy to peel compared to their American counterparts; if you find the process tedious or can’t find Jerusalem artichokes, you can sub in artichoke hearts.

    Masabacha

  1. Peel the artichokes, cut them into 1-inch chunks, and drop them into a saucepan with water to cover. Add 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice to prevent them from browning, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until they’re soft, 20-25 minutes.
  2. Drain and add to a food processor with the almonds. Process for 15 seconds until incorporated but still chunky. Add the remaining lemon juice, olive oil, water, salt, cumin, and pepper and process until the mixture is chunky-smooth, adding more water if necessary, 30-45 seconds. Season with more salt, transfer to a plate, and cover.

Green Beans

  1. Add the green beans, lemon juice, olive oil, water, garlic, salt, pepper and mint to a 10-inch skillet, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the beans are soft, 25 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat, season with more salt and pepper and let it come to room temperature. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Top the masabacha with the green beans and their juices. Garnish with fresh mint and chopped toasted almonds.

Adeena Sussman

Adeena Sussman divides her time between Tel Aviv and New York and is writing an Israeli cookbook to be published by Avery Books in 2019. She is also the author of Tahini, and co-author of ten cookbooks including the New York Times #1 best-selling Cravings by Chrissy Teigen and its upcoming sequel.

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