Salads are a staple of Middle Eastern life and almost no meal is served without some salad. At every meal, traditional Sephardic families enjoy a variety of salads, using beans, fresh vegetables, herbs and olives. Most people know of Middle Eastern salads like babaghanouj (made from eggplant), humus (chick peas) and tehini paste. These salads are well known and can be bought at any vegetable stand or Middle Eastern grocer. But there are many others that represent the real cuisine and culture of Sephardic Jews.
Only among Syrian families will you find salads such as basergan, Syrian style potato salad, and avocado salad. These are the salads that are only found in the home and thus represent the authentic culture.
Most salads have fresh lemon squeezed into the dressing and oil. The citrus of the lemons brings out the flavors of the vegetables. Depending on the salad, it may be spiced with imported cumin or allspice and fresh garlic. The strength of these spices is preferred over canned supermarket spices that lose their aroma. Although olive oils are known to be Middle Eastern, I generally use vegetable oil. Most Middle East salads do not use lettuce greens of any sort because the region is arid and lettuces require a good deal of rainfall to grow. As with most regional foods, cooks will use the fruits and vegetables that are in season, and those that grow nearby.
To make salads, always keep fresh flat leaf parsley in the refrigerator, along with cans of different beans and fresh vegetables. Although dried beans can be used in any recipe, we have avoided the use in the app to reduce preparation time.
Sarina always has avocados in the house, along with celery, carrots, garlic, cucumbers (preferably Kirby or Persian), tomatoes, radishes, scallions, onions, green and red peppers, red potatoes, and romaine lettuce. For midweek meals, Sarina's mother often served lettuce wedges with cucumbers, celery and other raw veggies, instead of salads.
Mezze is served before the Sabbath midday meal, and also during holiday lunches. Many different salads are served along with kibbe or lahamajene (see hor d’oeurves) and homemade pickles made from turnips, cauliflower and green peppers. Before mezze, the entire morning is spent setting the table and preparing an array of fresh salads including potatoes, beans, avocado and lettuce salads. There are always several kinds of olives, including kalamata and green olives. A proper mezze table will have at least four to six salads, served on small plates. For a large group, there are two or three plates of each item, carefully laid out in groups so they can be within the grasp of each person. The result is a magnificent table with all kinds of interesting foods and something for even the choosiest eaters.