lebanese salsa | banadurah harrah

banadurah harrah

I've lived in four different states throughout the midwestern US and east coast, and everywhere I've gone, people have proudly shared a tremendous pride in their state's tomatoes. But if you ask me, there's very little difference between those grown in New Jersey and Illinois; that is, as long as you're not eating an Illinois tomato in Jersey, or vice versa, because with something this fragile and ephemeral, local is the way to go.

I try to eat relatively seasonally and locally, but I'm not such a stickler, and so I eat tomatoes pretty much year-round (sometimes from the farmers' market, sometimes from the supermarket). But I do enjoy a lot more of them in late July and August. And banadurah harrah is one of my favorite Middle Eastern dishes to eat this time of year because it really puts tomatoes front and center.

tomatoes
diced tomatoes
mint

Banadurah harrah means "spicy tomatoes" in Lebanese Arabic, and it's usually described as "Lebanese salsa." And this totally makes sense because a lot of its ingredients overlap with Mexican salsas. You've got tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, spicy peppers, and citrus. As Maureen Abood says in her banadurah harrah post, what makes this taste a little more Lebanese is the particular choice of herbs—in this case, mint. Banadurah harrah goes great with tortilla chips, but it's more traditionally eaten as a condiment or with bread, and it makes a wonderful addition to a meze tray. Most bannadurah harrah recipes (and indeed, one of the recipes in this post) have you simmer the tomatoes with lots of deliciously subtle dried mint. The cooked version is the one I'm most used to, and it's particularly perfect if you've stumbled upon this sunny post in the middle of winter, because it works great with canned tomatoes and dried herbs. I've got a quick recipe for making dried mint at home if you can't find it in the supermarket. And in the middle of January, canned tomatoes are so much better than those pale, gritty ones you find in the produce section.

But, since we're smack dab in the middle of July and August, my current favorite way to enjoy banadurah harrah is fresh. My recipe for fresh banadurah harrah uses all the same ingredients as my recipe for the simmered version, but it just prepares them a little differently. Instead of stewing everything together with dried herbs (because "stewing" is a verb you might not want to hear in July), you simply finely dice and mince everything together with fresh herbs.

banadurah harrah
banadurah harrah
banadurah harrah
banadurah harrah

simmered banadurah harrah

yield: about 3 cups
total time: 17 minutes
active time: 7 minutes
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  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons small-diced onion

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed through a press or finely minced

  • 2 13.5-ounce cans of diced tomatoes

  • 2 teaspoons finely crumbled dried mint

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan for 1 minute. Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  2. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the diced tomatoes with their juices. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every minute or so, until the tomatoes dissolve into a thick sauce and the juices evaporate. If you're not using a wide frying pan (e.g., if you're using a tall saucepan), this may take longer.

  3. Reduce heat to medium, add the dried mint, cayenne pepper, oregano, and salt, and cook for another 2 minutes to infuse everything with flavor.

  4. Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, refrigerate, and serve either cold or at room temperature.

Notes: The simmered version freezes wonderfully. You can store it all together in freezer-proof container, or freeze little portions in an ice cube tray, and then store the cubes in a plastic bag. If you're looking for ways to serve simmered banadurah harrah, try it on toast with labneh, or coat some winter squash and roast it. Also check out my recipe for slow roast banadurah harrah.

banadurah harrah
banadurah harrah

fresh banadurah harrah

yield: about 2 1/2 cups
total time: 25 minutes
active time: 15 minutes
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  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes

  • 1/4 cup small-diced red onion

  • 1 clove garlic, crushed

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

  1. Strain the diced tomatoes for about 10 minutes to let the juices run into the sink (don't worry, there will be enough tomato juice once you add the salt).

  2. Combine the strained tomatoes, red onion, garlic, olive oil, mint, cayenne pepper, oregano, salt, and lemon juice. Stir to combine and serve cold or at room temperature.

banadurah harrah

watermelon jerusalem salad | shaptiya salad

Watermelon Jerusalem Salad

Watermelon (or shaptiya) is important to Assyrian cuisine, but it's not really the kind of thing we usually do very much to. And it's not that we usually eat things in their simplest forms; for instance, give us some yogurt, and we will spend days alchemically transforming it into hundreds of variations. We'll stew up a pot of yogurt and swiss chard soup, we'll simmer kibbeh in a yogurt broth, we'll strain it and make labneh, we'll eat it homemade as a savory or sweet snack, and we'll even spoon it over prakhe. And that's just the short list of yogurt-related recipes and pairings currently on my mind.

But watermelon? In my experience, it's always served straight up. And that's for good reason, because when it comes to watermelon, you really don't need to do much to make it delicious. Chill it, split it open, sprinkle on a tiny pinch of salt, and enjoy the most refreshing summer treat. This beautiful simplicity is what made me think of Jerusalem salad when I was dreaming up other ways to serve watermelon. At it's most straightforward, Jerusalem salad is just finely diced tomatoes and cucumbers, and this understated elegance is preserved even with the addition of another ingredient, watermelon. The watermelon itself looks just like the tomatoes, but it tastes a lot like the cucumbers, so if you were to serve this as a Jerusalem salad to friends, they might not be able to put their finger on what's different about it (besides the glaringly different feta cheese). When you introduce something that doesn't fall in line with the tomato-cucumber binary, the flavors become just a little harder to pin down.

Watermelon
Watermelon

While I love watermelon, it comes with a couple hang-ups. First of all, there's nothing worse than cutting open a mealy, bland, and pale one. The natural solution is to only shop for watermelon when it's in season, but this isn't always enough to guarantee ripeness. And you know a ripe melon when you taste one: it's got that perfectly deep coral color, juicy, toothsome texture that's not quite crunchy, but never soggy, and that delicious melon flavor that's sweet, but with a hint of refreshing cucumber. You should definitely try to shop for melons when they're in season because this gives you the best chance, but it's totally possible to get a dud in the middle of July, and it's also possible to get a perfect melon in the dead of winter.

So when you can't just rely on knowing the season, selecting a good melon might seem totally perplexing. But it's actually somewhat straightforward if you know what to look for. Watermelons need to ripen on the vine, and there are two easy ways to tell whether a melon has had enough time to ripen.

  1. The most important thing to look for is a yellow patch on the bottom. This is where the watermelon sat in the dirt while it grew, and the patch can range anywhere from bright white to deep yellowish-orange. Generally, the yellower the patch, the riper the watermelon. You can see an example of a very yellow patch in the photo above.

  2. The watermelon should also feel pretty heavy for its size.

So if it's in season, it feels heavy for its size, and it has a very yellow patch, you've found a good one.

Watermelon Jerusalem Salad
Watermelon Jerusalem Salad

So we've talked about how to find a good one, but (at least for me!) the other watermelon hangup is all that waste. First, there's the huge pile of watermelon rind left over after you slice up all the pink stuff. And then there's the other three quarters of a watermelon left over after you've made a big salad and eaten nothing but those adorably cheerful wedges for days. They start to seem a little less cheerful on day three right? There's going to be a bonus post addressing the second problem in a few days (i.e., I'll give you a few ideas of how to use up all that leftover watermelon, with very few additional ingredients). But this salad tackles the first problem, since I ask you to make a quick pickle of some of the watermelon rinds.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds

I've definitely been known to make some questionable meals out of extremely questionable leftover food scraps, because I just hate to see anything go to waste. But my own frugality and environmentalism aside, I'd never insist that you do the same if I didn't think it tasted good. So I can say with total conviction that this watermelon rind quickle truly tastes good. This salad is not the same without it.

If you've never eaten watermelon rind, you might be skeptical, but it's actually a really common ingredient in a few different cultures. A watermelon rind preserve post will have to wait until next summer, because I don't want to turn this into an exclusively watermelon-themed-content food blog, and I'm afraid it might start to seem that way after this week. Before I get to the salad recipe, I'll just leave you with Iraqi food blogger Sara Ahmad's beautiful post about watermelon rind preserves. "At thirty, I’ve surely tasted so many peculiar flavors that it must be rare to be so startled, and by something that looks and feels like a basic marmalade. Yet, here I am, confronted with a taste unlike anything I’ve ever had before. This sparks one of those trite deeply personal inspirations: there is so much life out there."

Watermelon Jerusalem Salad
Watermelon Jerusalem Salad

Watermelon Jerusalem Salad

yield: 6-8 servings
active time: 25 minutes
total time: 1 hour 25 minutes
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watermelon rind quick pickles

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 1 cup small diced watermelon rind (green skins removed before dicing)

  1. Mix the sugar, salt, and vinegar together until everything dissolves, and then submerge the watermelon rind in the vinegar and quick pickle it for 30 to 45 minutes while you're prepping the rest of the ingredients. Once it's done pickling, strain it very well and discard the vinegar or save it for another use (let the vinegar drain away for about 2 to 5 minutes).

assembling the salad

  • 4 cups small diced red watermelon (from about 1/4 of 1 medium watermelon or 1/2 of 1 mini watermelon)

  • 1 1/2 cups small diced tomato (from about 3 medium tomatoes)

  • 3 cups small diced cucumber (from about 5 Persian cucumbers)

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion (from about 2 green onions)

  • 1/4 cup washed, towel-dried, and minced fresh mint, plus 1 tablespoon more for garnish

  • The juice of 1 lemon

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • More salt to taste (optional)

  • 8 ounces small diced firm feta (about 1 1/2 cups) *

  1. Gently fold together the watermelon, tomato, cucumber, and salt, and refrigerate for an hour.

  2. After an hour has gone by, strain the salad through a fine mesh colander, discarding the liquid. Do not press the salad against the colander, but gently shake the colander a few times to drain away the excess liquid. **

  3. Add the green onion, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, any additional salt, and the well-strained watermelon rind pickles, and gently fold to combine.

  4. At the last moment, very gently fold in the diced feta after you've made sure that the pieces are not stuck together.

  5. Garnish with another tablespoon minced fresh mint and serve immediately.

* For this recipe, a firm feta is best. If you're using a soft feta, you should instead crumble it into big pieces and be extra careful when folding it in. If it's soft cheese, don't try to evenly distribute it or the pieces will just dissolve.
** Feel free to check out my original Jerusalem Salad post if you want to see why I like to salt and strain Jerusalem salad. I've also got a recipe for Jerusalem salad pico de gallo, which doesn't require straining.

Watermelon Jerusalem Salad