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Chopped Salad

Sarit Packer & Itamar SrulovichFilmed at UJIA Sippur 2015

Growing up in Israel, you never think about chopped salad, you are never conscious of it – it is just there, part of Jewish culture, breakfast lunch and dinner, always on the table, like salt and pepper, more of a condiment than a dish. In this talk, we will describe and show you how to make the perfect chopped salad. Have it with breakfast, have it as lunch, always always have it with bread – simple, fresh and lovely; that is it, our chopped salad. We hate mixing politics and food, or politics with anything, but we hope that just as Israel fell in love with the native food of the region, it’ll find common ground with its neighbours in the mutual admiration of this food.

Sarit Packer has been cooking and baking since she was five. She trained at Butlers Wharf and at the Orrery under Chris Galvin, where she learned, amongst other things, to make Pate de Fruit, which was her sole ambition in life. In her spare time she sleeps. She is married quite happily to Itamar Srulovich but keeps her maiden name for obvious reasons.

Itamar Srulovich was born and raised in Jerusalem. He has been cooking since the age of five and leaving a great mess in the kitchen ever since. Itamar trained on the job in various places in Tel-Aviv. He prefers eating to cooking and sleeping to both. He is very happily married.

Itamar: You know when there is more than one Jew in the room there will be food, and there should be food. And there will be food. We will …

Sarit: Yes, we are going to keep it quite simple. Something that we can do quite quickly, and chop a salad for you, but, let’s start with introducing ourselves a bit. I’m Sarit, he’s Itamar, we moved here about 11 years ago. We are were both born in Israel, grew up in Israel and kind of met each other a bit by mistake in a restaurant kitchen and talked a lot about food, read a lot of cookbooks and said “oh, we want to go to Europe, we want to cook everything that we don’t get in Israel, we want to try all this European food, we want to experiment, we want to make reductions, we want to make fancy desserts and everything fly and we wanted to kind of taste all this different food” and we landed here, and like I say 11 years ago, we started eating everywhere, we ate Indian food, thai food, Vietnamese food, Chinese food, Japanese food, and most of all kind of European, classic French, and it was a kind of exciting time. We were trying everything and getting excited by the variety because we came at a time that food wasn’t so big, restaurant food wasn’t so big in Israel; now it’s more of a massive, growing market, and we kind of said, “yeah, let’s go to fancy restaurants, for fine dining – we’ll work that way”, but at home we would cook this food and we would kind of remember home and we would say when we really want to taste something that reminds us of growing up, reminds us of the vegetables- and there is nothing like a chopped salad for that.

Itamar: And actually, growing up in Israel, you don’t actually think about chopped salad, it’s just like there, it’s just there on the table, at every meal. At breakfast, at lunch, at dinner, it’s just like salt and pepper isn’t it? It’s just like a condiment, yeah. And you never really think about it, you’re never really conscious of it, it’s just you know, one of those things. And I started cooking in Tel Aviv and I started cooking in a fancy café, and we’d be cooking European food and we’d be making you know quiche for lunch and osso bucco for dinner and we’d be making, you know, croissants and brioche for breakfast, and I think most chefs in Tel Aviv at that time were looking West and were looking to Europe, and that that what was food should be. And of course, there are great traditions there. And I remember waking up one morning, when I was working in Tel Aviv and I had a very strong craving, and what I wanted for breakfast was fried eggs and some bread and some sour cream and chopped salad with loads of chillies and when you work in a kitchen, one of the perks of the job, there aren’t many, is that when you wake up with a craving you can actually make it. So I got into work and I was chopping the salad and cooking the egg on the griddle and everything was ready in a minute and I made myself a nice plate and I said I’m going to eat it and then one of my chefs was like, “actually I’m going to eat that” and I had to make more eggs, more salad, a big breakfast for everyone, we all sat down and ate. And we enjoyed it so much it became sort of a tradition in that kitchen. And that was maybe the first time that I thought that maybe the food that we brought from home and the food that was always around us is actually awesome, it’s great and we don’t need to look West because we have some pretty terrific things right here. And this was sort of the first step in the journey that ended up in our own restaurant now that is serving exactly this type of food. This story in this restaurant didn’t end well because we liked it so much we decided to put it on the menu for breakfast and then all we did all morning was chop salads to order and that was a total nightmare but it did teach me how to make a nice chopped salad.

Sarit: It’s happened again though, because we kind of thought, “oh we’ll just open a bit of a Middle Eastern food, we’ll cook the food we cooked at home. We’ll cook the food we ate at friends’ houses, and just the two of us will cook and we’ll open a little restaurant, I’ll bake some cakes, Itamar will chop some salads, we’ll serve them and it’s kind of become a bit of a monster. Which there are good things about it, you know. May it long continue to be a little monster. So in our restaurant, the main thing we do is based on ingredients and when we moved here and we tried to kind of recreate this chopped salad at home the hardest thing that we found was finding ingredients that we could work with that would taste the same. And this is something that we’ve worked hard on finding in the UK, you know it’s a simple kind of thing, but finding a cucumber that is small, that is crisp, that is super sweet when you eat it, without any bitterness, with hardly any seeds inside and the seeds that are there are really crunchy rather than these kind of big supermarket cucumbers that have no flavour and you don’t want to work with them.

Itamar: that was so strange to us when we came we said, “what is this vegetable, it can’t be a cucumber.”

Sarit: It’s true. So start with cucumbers always, and when they’re this good and this crispy you don’t need to peel them or anything like that, it’s all about just finding a good grocer that does it. And actually I think the kind of exciting thing about being here 11 years is seeing how we can start to source these things that we really want to eat.

I’ve got a knife. No.

Itamar: You’ve got my knife. Laughs.

Sarit: I like this knife better. Laughs.

So we’ve found a few suppliers, a few Turkish delis, a few Middle Eastern delis and people who are bringing in this produce that we want and it’s really worth seeking them out because the difference in flavour is huge. Don’t peel, just trim off the edges. You don’t have to do them four at a time if you don’t want to. Then down the middle and then again. And it’s all… we don’t usually chop on something so low down.

Itamar: Yeah, I think it’s too big actually.

Sarit: It’s not too big.

Itamar: I would go three across and three length ways

Sarit: No, these are tiny cucumbers and I’ll throw them everywhere.

Itamar: Anyway.

Sarit: Cucumbers are the first thing to go in.

Itamar: Yeah, and you could say, if you get good cucumbers you are half way there because the other half is good tomatoes, which is so important. Just in life generally but also you know for this dish because there’s nothing to it and if it doesn’t taste nice, if it’s the sort of Styrofoam tasting tomatoes that we are so often blighted with at supermarkets in this country. But you can get nice tomatoes these days.

Sarit: or grow your own.

Itamar: You can grow your own, you can get good ones. They cost a fortune but they’re worth it I think, aren’t they? This is one of life’s little luxuries. So the thing with the tomatoes and with a chopped salad is never use a serrated knife. I think a lot of people would use a little serrated vegetable knife.

Sarit: I would use a little serrated vegetable knife.

Itamar: What do you know; I’ll just say that she doesn’t make the salads at home or at the restaurant so you will get good salad. You need a chef’s knife because a serrated knife bruises your vegetables so you need a really sharp, really good chef’s knife. And you can use really ripe tomatoes that will go a little bit to mush, you know that’s kind of nice in a salad isn’t it, because it’s going to add to the dressing and will be quite nice. But if you get firmer ones that will stay crunchy, that’s also really nice. As long as they taste nice, and these do, I think you’re home safe.

Sarit: What about the seeds?

Itamar: The seeds, you can leave them. So we just cut them in three and then dice them. The real class act is that you are left with just this and then you can get rid of it. That is I think the nice way to chop.

Sarit: The essence of a classy salad. So the next thing and this is kind of open to variation and you can go either way with this but we favour mint and parsley, you can go for a bit of fresh coriander if you like the flavour some people can’t stand it, you can go with a bit of rocket if it’s really nice and peppery, it works really well and of course some lettuce, the main kind of thing is what you enjoy eating, but for us it’s always about parsley and mint it’s kind of the basis of…

Itamar: forget about what she said, it’s not about what you enjoy eating, you can use parsley, you can use mint, you can use coriander and none of the others.

Sarit: no…

Itamar: That’s it. Otherwise it’s what are doing here.

Sarit: Laughs. As you can maybe spot here, we don’t agree about anything. But, we do agree about what we like eating which is kind of the main thing isn’t it. So the best way to chop parsley is to kind of get all the leaves into one bunch, then roll them up into a little ball and then chop it nice and fine. And the main kind of thing about chopping is that you don’t hack at your vegetables. Your knife again should be quite nice and sharp, and just nice sliding motions, and you don’t bruise your parsley and it stays really nice and green and fresh and that’s really nice.

Itamar: Though a big bone of contention is this. Do we put onions or do we put garlic? Now you don’t see any garlic here, so you know what I’m going to say. Onions I think are so nice, but either way, whichever you choose, never both, it will be too much. So we always go for onion. I think you don’t want to have too much. Just peel it, cut it in half and then chop it really as finely as you can because you don’t want big chunks. And if you’re worried about the smell of onion on your breath this salad is going to have so much lemon juice and a fair bit of salt and there is the acidity of the tomatoes that will mellow the onions right down and this I think will just leave them sweet.

Sarit: It almost cooks them. Rather than leaving a bad breath on you or being too powerful it kind of helps you…. That’s very noisy.

Itamar: Yes. Sorry. Sorry soundman.

Sarit: Laughs. Alright, so I’m just chopping some mint and with the mint you actually do have to chop off the stem because the stem can be quite bitter. That goes in. And then the last bone of contention for us is the chillies. So green or red doesn’t matter, I’m not a massive chilli fan. Whereas Itamar would probably use all of this one in one salad I’m only going to allow him to use a bit of this and the kind of main thing is to keep it to the flavours you like. Taste the chilli, they can be really different in spice so when you open it up either eat a bit of the tip, remember the seeds are much spicier than everything else so if you leaving them in your salad’s going to be super spicy. And they say that the little membrane, the white membrane, the more yellow it is supposedly the spicier it is but I don’t know if that’s true or not. And then the lemon juice, another important thing. Lemons in general are massively important and the best way to get the most juice is to roll them on the table and it will just soften them a bit and help you produce a bit more juice from it. And really in a salad like this the main thing is the dressing that is left in the bowl afterwards. You can mop it up with some bread, you pour it on some white rice and you eat it, you let your fried egg or omelette soak up all those juices. That’s what you want to do with that. Hold your hand to catch all the juice.

Itamar: She’s the master of seasoning, I don’t get involved in this part.

Sarit: Right. You get involved in the tasting though usually.

Itamar: Yep.

This is another little bit of a tricky area. I think when we were growing up our mums would never have olive oil at home, it was always vegetable oil and actually for us in Jerusalem, not even that. They would just add a little bit of cold water, iced water and that would be the dressing. But I think now we use olive oil and it’s so full of flavour and luxurious.

Sarit: Which I can’t open.

Itamar: I don’t know if I can. That would be an embarrassment.

Sarit: So olive oil, be generous. Be generous with salt. Enough enough. Not that generous. Like I said, it’s all about the sauce at the end. Give it a good mix. The colours should be beautiful. You want to eat it really as soon as you can to preparation because that’s when it’s fresh. And you actually want to use more lemon than you think. I’m going to let Itamar taste and see if he wants more lemon. And then I can’t put the spoon back so…

Itamar: yep. Mm.

Sarit: Salt? Lemon?

Itamar: Salt.

Sarit: Salt. It takes quite a bit of salt and especially because it’s fresh vegetables.

Itamar: So with the seasoning it’s always more than you think you should

Sarit: It is.

Itamar: A few rules about eating this, it’s like Sarit said, you always need bread, you always need something to mop it up. You always need to eat it fresh and the third thing is the juice that’s the best bit. Once the salad is finished you will have a little bit of the dressing left at the bottom and this would be the bit that we would drink up. And this is it pretty much. This is our chopped salad. This is our little taste of home. And it’s great for us to see how in recent years everyone talks about Israeli food which was not a thing maybe five, six years ago and it’s great for us to look at Israel growing and becoming more confident in its food and not looking West anymore but looking side ways to ts neighbours and backwards to its traditions, and you know, this dish which is of course and arab dish and a dish of the Middle East is the national dish of Israel and we think how great it would be if we can

Sarit: Share more things, rather than focus on the things that divide us and remember that we all enjoy the same flavours, come from the same place and should be closer for that.


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