Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Balela Salad

One of the cardinal rules of grocery shopping is not to shop on an empty stomach. Well, last week I fell short of that but as a result I discovered a salad I didn't even know existed.

My marketing was at Trader Joe's. I had just gotten my hair cut at noon and needed to make a quick grocery run so I could get back home to work. But, oh, was I hungry. I had all these crackers left over from Thanksgiving and was looking for some kind of dip to make the most of them before they'd go stale. I picked up some eggplant hummus (disappointing) and then noticed containers of something called balela cozying up next to the tzatziki. I did a quick read of the ingredients--garbanzo beans, black beans, tomatoes, parsley, mint, sumac, garlic--and thought this would be my perfect lunch in front of my desk.

Well, I loved it. The flavors are fresh and bright. And you couldn't find something healthier to eat as we head into the holidays. But why pay three bucks for a small container given that the ingredients were not at all pricey? So I figured I'd make my own.

I'd love to tell you the roots of balela salad but I've been hard pressed to find them. It's supposedly Middle Eastern. But it could also be Mediterranean. One source I found claimed it was Greek but I checked with a Greek-American friend who's a cooking instructor and she said no--but maybe it was Persian. If you know, please share.

The recipe came together pretty easily. The focus is on the garbanzos with less of the black beans. There's heat. There's tang from what I figure is lemon juice--and lots of parsley and mint. For the heat I added a bit of cayenne pepper. I added more tanginess with red wine vinegar. Sumac also adds some tartness and I love its vibrant red color.

You could add feta and/or olives to enrich this salad. I've left it without so far.

Eat balela salad as a side dish, as a condiment for a pita-based sandwich, or serve it as an appetizer with pieces of sangak bread. I've written about sangak before. It's one of my favorite treats--a flat, spongy Persian bread that is perfect to eat with labne or baba ganoush. You can now buy it freshly made in San Diego at Balboa International Market in Clairemont (you can also buy ground sumac there). Yes, it's ginormous for bread--like three feet or so. But I cut it up into sections, wrap them in wax paper, and freeze in a freezer bag. When I want to eat some, I take out a wrapped up stack, let the pieces defrost, and then heat them up just a little so they retain the spongy texture.

Balela Salad
Serves 4 to 6
(printable recipe)

Salad ingredients
1, 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
4 ounces black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/3 cup Italian parsley, minced
2 tablespoons mint, minced

Dressing ingredients
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground sumac
2 cloves garlic, minced
Black pepper and sea salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Mix together salad ingredients in a medium bowl. To make the dressing, which together all ingredients except the olive oil. Whisk in the olive oil. Once blended, pour over the salad ingredients and stir well to fully incorporate. Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight before serving.

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