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.

diced tomatoes

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

pita bread

Pita Bread

When I first started baking bread about ten years ago, any flatbread I tried to make turned into pita. As it first started to bake, my naan always looked like it was making those perfect little air bubbles, until they all joined together into one monstrous bubble, which lifted the flat disc of dough into a perfectly spherical orb, balancing on a single point on the pizza stone. I eventually learned how to make all sorts of other kinds of flatbreads (including naan!), but I still feel like pita bread comes naturally. And the thing is, pita bread is really easy if you know a few tricks and use a good recipe.

Pita Bread Dough

While I had the opposite problem with baking other flatbreads, the biggest challenge with making homemade pita bread is getting it to form those huge pockets. But remember that if your pita doesn't pocket or looks weirdly lopsided, you've still got a really tasty flatbread! But if you really want to master the pocketed pita, all you have to do is use the right amount of water in the dough, knead it to form enough gluten, roll your dough to the right thinness, and let your pizza stone preheat in the oven.

Most pita recipes say that you should roll your dough out to about 1/4 inch, but this is the completely wrong thickness for pita bread. If you roll your dough to 1/4 inch thickness, you will end up with really adorably puffy, flat little loaves of bread (trust me, I measured). And if you roll your dough way too thin, it will quickly turn into something similar to lawash as it bakes. It turns out, 1/8 of an inch is the perfect thickness for pita. But if you don't get the right thickness, it isn't a tragedy—the bread will still be delicious. Use the crackers in fattoush, and simply slice the puffy breads in half once they cool. It's almost like a pocket!

Baking Pita Bread

You also want to make sure that you use a pizza stone, placed on the oven floor. Let it preheat in the oven, set to 500° F, until it's nice and hot. The instant heat from the pizza stone will help the pita start to puff up before it's cooked through. At 1 minute, it will have formed little bubbles, and by 2 minutes, the tiny bubbles will have joined together, forming one giant bubble throughout the whole loaf, before the bread starts to set and bake. You then continue to cook it for another 2 minutes, until it's cooked through, but still moist and chewy. If you don't have a pizza stone, you can just use a sheet pan in its place, or a cast iron skillet; the cast iron skillet will work better than the sheet pan, although you will have to bake one pita at a time. Just let the sheet pan or skillet preheat as if it were a stone, and throw the pita rounds directly onto it.

Pita Dough Discs

Finally, make sure that you use the right amount of flour and water. Since steam builds up and pushes the dough apart from itself while it bakes, if you don't the right amount of water, your pita will not pocket. That essentially means that you should use a sensible combination of following the recipe and your own intuition. Since different brands of flours are going to absorb water slightly differently, I ask you to start with 1 1/2 cups of water and then add 1/2 tablespoon at a time until your dough reaches the right consistency. When I make this recipe, I usually use only about 1/2 to 1 tablespoon more in addition to the 1 1/2 cups.

So what is the "right consistency"? The dough should be tacky, but not soupy. It should come together in a cohesive ball, but the surface shouldn't feel dry. Think: slightly tackier than a soft piece of gum 20 seconds after you start chewing it, rather than that same piece of gum an hour and a half later (i.e., a rubber ball). And again, if you get the proportions wrong, you'll still have homemade bread at the end of the day, and no one will ever judge you for that. Even if the bread dries out too much while it bakes, you can always use it in fattoushie (that's what happened to the one below and to the left). And speaking of consistency, make sure you work your dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. Forming enough gluten is another important part of pocket formation. All of this is in the recipe below, so if you follow it, you should be able to make perfect pita with ease.

Pocketed Pita

pita bread 

yield: 8 pitas
active time: 40 minutes
total time: 3 hours
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  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

  • 15 ounces (approx. 3 cups) white flour

  • 3 ounces (approx. 2/3 c) wheat flour

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  1. Proof the active dry yeast with the sugar and 1 1/2 cups of the water until the water looks a little foamy on top (about 5-10 minutes).

  2. Add the white flour, wheat flour, salt, and olive oil to a bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer, if you plan to knead by machine).

  3. Stir in the water/yeast/sugar mixture until the dough starts to come together. If the dough looks a little dry, gradually add a little more water, about 1/2 tablespoon at a time. The dough ball should not be too soupy or dry (somewhere in between is best). It should look a lot like store-bought pizza dough, but just a little stickier. If the dough is too wet, add a little more flour to compensate (about 2 tablespoons at a time).

  4. Knead until the dough ball passes the window pane test. It should come together into an elastic ball that has a smooth surface (see dough photo above). Kneading should take about 5-15 minutes by machine with a dough hook, or 10-20 minutes by hand. Pay more attention to the dough's consistency than the time you've spent kneading.

  5. Place the dough in a bowl, cover it, and let it rise at room temperature for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. It will rise noticeably. If it's a little chilly in your kitchen (e.g., below 67° F), you might need to let it rise for about 15 minutes longer.

  6. Place a pizza stone (or sheet pan) on the oven floor, move the oven racks up and out of the way, so you can very easily access the pizza stone, and pre-heat the oven to 500° F (or its hottest setting).

  7. Lightly flour a clean, food-safe work surface, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, and shape each chunk into a round ball with a smooth surface.

  8. Roll out each dough ball into a circle, about 7 or 8 inches in diameter, dusting the surface with more flour as needed. They should be 1/8 inch thick, which is very thin, but not paper-thin (see above photos). By the time you are done rolling the last disc, the first one will be ready to bake. They can be held at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

  9. The oven will be ready to bake once it has reached 500° F and stayed there for about 5 to 10 minutes. This gives the pizza stone a chance to get really hot.

  10. Throw 2 to 3 of the rolled-out discs onto the baking stone. Make sure they lay flat and are not touching. Bake for about 4 minutes. They'll puff up and slightly brown. Remove and cool (they'll start to deflate at room temperature). Repeat until all pitas are cooked.

Stack of Pita Bread