If you find yourself at an Israeli grill restaurant, or in an Israeli home for dinner, you will likely be offered a generous array of salatim to start off the meal. Salatim is the Hebrew word for “salads,” but the term encompasses a wide variety of side dishes that are fixtures on an Israeli table. Salatim go far beyond leafy green salads and include pickles, grilled and cooked vegetables, chopped salads, dips, and spreads.
The ethnic mishmash of the Jewish diaspora is often reflected in the country’s salads. Communities from Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, South America, and more have come to Israel and made the small stretch of land their home. The result is a robust melting pot of people and cuisines coexisting in close quarters. Common salatim include Moroccan-style carrot salad, Eastern European beet salad, Middle Eastern chopped cucumber, and tomato salad, lacto-fermented pickled vegetables, and roasted eggplant salads. Popular salatim are influenced by the cuisines of Libya, Turkey, Russia, France, Morocco, Yemen, Iran, and more.
My admission: I love salatim more than any main course. I love sitting down to a table with an abundant spread of dishes, piling my plate with a bit of this and a bit of that and enjoy it all with a bit of fluffy pita on the side. One of my favorite food memories is from a recent trip to Israel when a family friend came by to deliver a full salatim spread for our evening meal. Originally from Russia, she is an avid cook who has fallen in love with the various cuisines in Israel. She made combinations of ingredients I had never seen before, like a heavily spiced roasted eggplant salad topped with crunchy Marcona almonds, and a North African inspired carrot salad with a hefty punch of fresh licoricey basil leaves. There could be no greater gift than some delicious and lovingly prepared salatim.
Salads are made even better with peak-season produce. This time of year offers a bounty of late spring vegetables: sweet snap peas, asparagus, young radishes, artichokes, tender lettuce, arugula, and crunchy cucumbers. As summer comes, the options are endless: eggplant, peppers, corn, zucchini, fresh beans, melons, and the best, sweetest tomatoes of the year. Here are some favorites to welcome you into peak salatim season:
Beet salad with tahini from Michael Solomonov
Tomato and pomegranate salad from Yotam Ottolenghi
Quick pickled cucumber salad from Shannon Sarna
Cinnamony eggplant salad from Adeena Sussman
Moroccan tri-colored carrot salad from Joan Nathan
Syrian tabouleh salad from Rebecca Firkser
Classic baba ganoush from Adeena Sussman
Zucchini baba ganoush from Sonya Sanford
Israeli salad from Einat Admony
Spicy sweet grilled vegetables with silan from Amelia Saltsman
Pickled pink turnips from Sonya Sanford