Israeli Salad (aka Arabic Salad) with Za’atar Dressing is a fresh tomato and cucumber salad with a refreshing crunch and a complicated history. This healthy chopped vegetable salad is traditionally served with every meal of the day and makes the perfect summer side dish.
Israeli Salad with za’atar dressing
It’s refreshing, healthy, gorgeous, low calorie, easy to make, and versatile ~ what more could you possible ask from a salad? In Israel they’ll eat it for every meal of the day, and you’ll get lots of use out of it for summer meals and barbecues, etc. It brightens up just about any plate of food.
Israeli salad ~ the controversy
Food and culture are intimately connected, and this simple salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and parsley has become the center of a heated debate. Different cultures make and enjoy this refreshing salad, and so naming/claiming it can be tricky and a point of contention.
Tomato cucumber salad has been made for centuries in Palestine and other parts of the Middle East from the fresh produce of the region.
Jewish immigrants adapted the salad (which is simply called chopped salad in Israel) when they settled in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Jordan in the late 19th century.
You could think of this as an example of natural culinary evolution, or cultural appropriation. We can’t settle the issue here, but it’s something to think about as you chop your veggies for this wonderful dish.
For a Persian version of this salad check my Shirazi Salad.
where my chopped salad breaks with tradition
Everybody does their tomato and cucumber salad a little differently, whether it’s adding or subtracting a spice, changing up the herbs, or using different veggies…
- My salad is rather chunky, whereas most Israeli salads are very finely minced. I prefer this texture, and I feel like it doesn’t get as watery, and lasts longer. In this form the salad makes a nice side dish.
- I use multicolored bell peppers for a colorful effect whereas a classic salad would be red and green.
- Full sized tomatoes are traditional, but I love cherries because they’re available all year long, aren’t as watery, and are firm and sweet.
- Feta cheese is not traditional but makes my salad a little heartier.
- Chopped radishes add a spicy kick and extra crunch.
- Mint is a common ingredient that I’ve omitted simply because I didn’t have any. I highly recommend it.
ingredients for my Israeli salad
- TOMATOES ~ any great ripe tomato is perfect, but off season, cherry tomatoes are ideal.
- CUCUMBER ~ English or Persian cukes are best, they have less seeds, thinner skins, and are less watery.
- RED ONION ~you can substitute green onions.
- BELL PEPPERS ~ go for the rainbow here!
- RADISHES ~ big crunch factor and a nice sharp bite. Jicama might be a good substitute.
- FETA CHEESE ~ look for imported sheep’s milk feta, it’s creamy and mild.
- PARSLEY ~ use curly or flat leaf, but make sure it’s fresh, not dried.
- OLIVE OIL ~ extra virgin for flavor.
- LEMON JUICE ~ fresh squeezed.
- ZA’ATAR ~ a wild thyme-like herb, but also can be a spice blend of toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme, dried oregano, and sumac.
- SALT FRESH CRACKED BLACK PEPPER ~
how to make this salad ahead
Salads of all kinds are usually best enjoyed the day they’re made, but if you need to make this ahead, I would leave out the tomatoes, which don’t do well in the refrigerator, and add them before serving. Don’t dress the salad ahead of time, add it just before serving.
to make this salad vegan
Leave out the cheese, the salad will still be wonderful.
to make without za’atar
Substitute dried oregano, dried thyme, or a combination of both. You might also use some citrusy sumac to spice your salad.
more Mediterranean salads
- Mediterranean Orzo Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing
- Lentil Salad with Cucumber and Mint
- Chopped Italian Salad
- Chopped Greek Salad
- Mediterranean Bean Salad
- alligator chopper (optional)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 cup diced cucumber
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 1/2 cups diced bell peppers, assorted colors
- 1 cup diced radishes
- 1/2 cup diced red onion
- 1 cup cubed feta cheese
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp za'atar (substitute dried oregano, thyme, or both.)
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- Add all the veggies and parsley to a large bowl. Note: try to cut the ingredients in small, even pieces. I use my Alligator Chopper to do it quickly.
- Toss with enough dressing to moisten the salad. Season with salt and pepper. Note: I will sometimes leave the feta cheese out and add it after tossing, to prevent it from being broken up.
- Gently add the feta and give one gentle toss.
- Taste and add more dressing, or seasonings, as you like. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator until needed. Note: tomatoes do not fare well in the refrigerator, so if you are making the salad ahead, consider adding them right before serving.