There are many versions of this simple mixed vegetable salad throughout the Middle East and Balkans. In the Levant the vegetables are diced as small as possible without losing their shape. In the Balkans, vinegar and vegetable oil is used instead of lemon and olive oil and dill replaces parsley. In all of them, however tomatoes and cucumbers take center stage with other seasonal ingredients added to them. Originating in South America, tomatoes were unknown before their introduction in the 16th century by the globe trotting Spaniards. The Arabs of North Africa were quick to use new world fruits but Europeans thought that tomatoes as well other vegetables from the Solanaceae family were poisonous. It took many years before they became accepted. Cucumbers are from India and have been in the Middle East from antiquity.
Tomato and Cucumber Salad
1 tomato, diced
1 cucumber, diced
½ red bell pepper, diced (optional)
2 tablespoons onion or 1 green onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
If the vegetables are kept in the refrigerator let stand at room temperature for a more aromatic salad, cold vegetables blunt the taste. Mix all the ingredients together. The salad should have the same volume of tomatoes to cucumbers. Instead of lemon juice or in addition to it, ½ teaspoon of sumac can be added. A few tablespoons of pomegranate seeds are an attractive addition. For a Yemenite version add chopped green chili peppers.
In Romania I ordered salata asortata (mixed salad) in every little restaurant I went to and it was always roughly chopped and flavored with dill, vinegar and vegetable oil. In Turkey, it was a long time ago, but I remember that the salads usually had sweet peppers in them.
Add fried broken pita bread to the vegetable salad. Alternatively rub olive oil on pita bread and bake until golden and crunchy. Pomegranate seeds and chopped radishes are nice additions. Fried salty cheese can also be added.