The 'salatim' effect

Recipes for Israeli-style 'salads'

Israeli food and salatim are all the rage these days, and for good reason. Salatim means salads. These salads are not like the American version with piles of lettuce, some sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and a heavy dressing. 

Instead, Israeli salatim are brightly colored and deeply layered concoctions of seasonal fruits and vegetables -- sometimes grilled, roasted, raw, and often stewed -- then dressed in toasted spices, lavishly drizzled with fresh extra virgin olive oil, and brightened with citrus. 

This is the perfect month to add some salatim to your menus. An estimated 45 million Americans will go on a diet in January. Some dieters will succeed; most will not. Diets are hard and not fun. Instead of limiting your foods or eliminating your favorites, maybe try adding some new dishes. The salatim recipes below are fast, fresh, low-carb, and low-calorie. 

Eating should not be a punishment and should be something you enjoy. Adding some salatim will punch up your 2019 menus, slow down your dinners (eating slowly means you tend to eat less), and add some excitement to mealtime. Something deliciously magical happens when you start a meal with salatim . The palate opens, you appreciate the flavors, and you slow down the usual hurried meal.

Crafted by hand and infinitely more interesting than leaves on a plate, salatim are meant to be appreciated and, like a first course, they get you ready for the main event. Salatim can turn up the volume on a plain piece of fish, chicken, or anything. They can be eaten before the main dish, alongside the main, or as the main event. Prepare one or two salatim and in large amounts so you can enjoy them throughout the week. 

The key to salatim is finding fresh ingredients, as seasonal as possible, and made with high quality (though simple) ingredients. For example, if you are making a green bean salad, you must use fresh green beans, the best quality extra virgin olive oil, and bright, fresh citrus (not packaged lemon or lime juice).

Have fun making salatim . Purchase whatever fresh produce looks good to you and try combining it with items you are more familiar with. Clean out your pantry and get rid of processed foods and add some salatim arsenal ingredients. Here are some staples:

High-Quality Tehina : There are dozens of tehina products. Try an organic one. You will not regret purchasing a good quality product. If you don't like it --  no, it is not you! Tehina , a Middle Eastern sesame-seed paste, is not ever really good right out of the jar, because it separates (the solids sink and the fat floats atop), the flavor is bland, and it is messy to use. 

Try this simple fix: Gently warm a jar of tehina in a bowl of almost hot water until you can easily mix the tehina (the heat will soften the solids). Scoop out several tablespoons and place in a small mixing bowl. Add a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice, several tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil, one teaspoon of kosher or sea salt, and several tablespoons of warm water. Whisk until the tehina can be drizzled (you may need more water depending upon which brand you use). Now, taste the result. If desired, add more lemon, lime, salt, and other flavoring components like: roasted garlic, fresh grated garlic, ground cumin, chopped herbs, olives, hot peppers, and more. Store leftover tehina , covered, in the fridge.

High-Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This is a must for every kitchen! Extra virgin olive oil is a good fat and should be your fat of choice. No other oil has as many healthful properties as extra virgin olive oil, and like most things, you get what you pay for. Try a great oil from Spain for garnishing salatim and a good quality oil from California for your workhorse tasks like caramelizing vegetables. 

Fresh Spices: Invest in cumin, coriander, cinnamon, peppercorns, and turmeric. Fresh spices will add big punches of flavor.  

Whole Milk Greek Yogurt : Fat-free yogurt and 2-percent are processed! All the good stuff was taken out. Making labneh (yogurt cheese) is simple, delicious, and versatile. Quick dinner needed on a weeknight? Try a labneh bowl. Sauté onions, peppers, and favorite veggies. Then spoon over labneh and garnish with za'atar , lemon juice, and toasted almonds or pumpkin seeds. 

Nuts and Seeds: Toasted almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, pine nuts, and pistachios all add texture, healthy fats, and tons of flavor. Stock up on your family's favorite. Store nuts and seeds, wrapped tightly, in the freezer.

Caramelized Cauliflower with Green Tehina

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, sliced thinly
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 head of fresh or frozen cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 lemon, scrubbed and cut into thin slices (not peeled)
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds or pumpkin seeds
  1. Heat a large sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium high heat. Sauté onion until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add cauliflower, lemon, garlic, and almond or seeds.
  3. Add 1/3 cup of water, reduce heat to medium, and cover the pan. Cook for 7-10 minutes until cauliflower is tender.
  4. Remove cover and continue cooking until cauliflower is caramelized and medium brown.
  5. Garnish cauliflower with Green Tehina (see below).

Green Tehina

  • Prepare 1/3 cup of tehina as described above.
  • ¼  cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 cloves garlic
  1. Pulse prepared tehina , parsley, mint, cilantro, lemon juice, and garlic in a food processor. Season with salt to taste. 

Labneh with Roasted Peppers and Lime

  • 32 ounces whole milk greek yogurt
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 3 red peppers
  • 2 green bell peppers or poblano peppers
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • Garnish: toasted almond or pumpkin seeds, za'atar , extra virgin olive oil, chopped flat-leaf parsley, fresh mint
  1. The day before serving: Place yogurt in a mesh strainer over a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place the whole set-up in the fridge. The next day, turn out thickened labneh into a container that can be covered, but reserve the whey (the strained- out cloudy liquid).
  2. Roast peppers in oven or over a burner until charred. Cover until they are cool enough to handle. Peel off charred skin and discard seeds. Slice thinly and toss with reserved whey, lime juice, and zest.
  3. Arrange labneh on a serving platter and top with peppers, lime zest, and juice and a big glug of good olive oil.

Lemony Stewed Green Beans

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, sliced thinly
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 pound green beans, tips and stem ends trimmed
  • 1 lemon, scrubbed and sliced thinly (not peeled)
  • 6 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • 2 cups jarred or canned whole plum tomatoes, squished with your hands
  • ½ cup sliced almonds or pumpkin seeds, toasted until golden
  • ½ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  1. Heat a large sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium high heat. Sauté onion until golden brown (about 5-7 minutes).
  2. Add green beans and lemon -- and continue cooking until beans are wrinkled and lemon is soft and lightly caramelized.
  3. Add garlic and stir to combine. Add tomatoes and almonds or seeds. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 10 minutes until beans are tender.
  4. Transfer beans to a serving platter and garnish with almonds or seeds. 

Laura Frankel is a kosher chef and author.Previously, she was the Culinary Director for Jamie Geller's Test Kitchen and Kosher Network International. Frankel is the author of two Jewish cookbooks, with a third forthcoming. She is the founder of Shallots Restaurant in Chicago, Skokie, and New York, and served as Executive Chef for Wolfgang Puck.

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