Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Favorite VB6 Salad - Çoban Salatası ("Shepherd's Salad")

Çoban salatası (or "Shepherd's" salad) is a very popular and delicious Turkish summer salad.  The flavorful summer vegetables (well, I guess some of them are technically fruits), mixed with a simple delicious dressing of olive oil and lemon, make Çoban salad an excellent VB6 lunch.  While the ingredients are pretty universal -- tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and peppers dressed with olive oil, lemon and salt, and sometimes sprinkled with herbs, such as parsley, mint, or dill -- it is the selection of produce and they way it is cut that makes every body's Çoban salad unique.  Here is mine.

First, I am NOT a fan of Persian cucumbers.  I find them strangely sweet.  Actually, when I first started really getting into Turkish cookery, more than 25 years ago, Persian cucumbers were nowhere to be found, while these wonderful pickling cucumbers were readily available.  Now the Persian cucumbers are everywhere, and  I can only find pickling cucumbers at farmer's markets and speciality stores.  So when I find them, I buy them up and make lots of Çoban salad.

I peel the cucumbers in strips (leaving on some of the skin) and dice them up into fork-friendly chunks (not too small).  Next, I peel and cut up in larger chunks the best tomatoes I can find, such as firm, juicy red heirlooms.  As a second choice, I will use Roma, which are less flavorful, but still very good and attractive in this salad.  I always sprinkle the tomatoes with some Kosher salt after I peel and cut them, to really enhance their flavor.  I put the cucumbers on the bottom on my serving bowl, followed by the tomatoes.

Next, I very thinly slice a small amount of white or purple onion.  Onion is an important component, but a little goes a long way.  Some recipes call for the onion to be salted and squeezed and washed in water to "tame" it.  I do that sometimes, but not in this version.  Rather, for this version, I use much less onion, but I keep in the bite.  Next, I find the thinnest, greenest Anaheim peppers I can find (unless I am fortunate enough to find real Turkish peppers at the farmers' market, or unless Asaf grows them for me in the garden, which he's been known to do!).  This recipe calls for just one pepper.  I remove the seeds and slice it into very, very, very thin ringlets.  That goes on top of the onion.  Finally, I chop up a bit of fresh mint and throw that on top, and I add a sprinkling of Turkish red pepper (Pul biber) or Sumac.  The finished product looks like this.

About 15 minutes before serving, I dress it with a small amount of really good olive oil (good olive oil is essential in salads), some fresh squeezed lemon juice, and I check to see if any more salt is needed.  This allows the flavors to develop.

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