mediterranean chickpea salad (aka balela, my way)

med chickpea saladThe other day I was catching up a little on my blog reading, and came across something on a very well-known food blog that kind of blew me away.  It was a recipe for a pepper salad, and was basically just red & yellow peppers, red onion, feta and cucumber.  The kind of thing that I throw together without thinking twice; not the kind of dish I would deem “blog-worthy”.  There was no cute story with it; just the recipe and a bit about how the author had stopped eating salads with lettuce.  But there, underneath the post, were close to 150 comments saying how great it was, and how people were dropping everything to rush to the store to make this salad.  I have to say, I was flabbergasted.  Really?!?

Reading this person’s post, it jolted me back to the reality that many people (possibly even the majority?) who regularly read food blogs and watch the Food Network rarely cook! All those commenters that said stuff like “Wow, that looks so delicious”…?  I would bet money that less than 5% of them go on to actually prepare the recipe.  (I guess this isn’t so strange if you think about, for example,  all the people who read fashion magazines but don’t dress fashionably.)

So what does this have to do with balela? (Huh?  Remember that… the title of this post? Oh yeah…)  Well, I made some a few weeks ago (or rather, my interpretation of it), and even took a couple photos, but never posted it because I didn’t think it was “fancy” enough or something.  Clearly, I am out of touch with what the blog-reading public wants!   I guess the moral of the story is that  instead of trying to second-guess what people may want to read about, I should just post whatever I feel like?

Trader Joe’s sells balela in little plastic tubs, but the portion they sell amounts to about one whole serving, and it’s easy and much cheaper to make yourself.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of making big batches of grain or legume-based salads to take in my lunch.  They’re also good potluck fare- this one was for the Memorial Day BBQ I went to (the one with the grilled pizza).  My version isn’t “authentic” balela in any way, as I added some extra veggies (peppers, cucumbers), but I like the extra crunch they add.  The dressing is inspired by the dressing for fattoush and can be used in any salad where you want Middle Eastern flavors.

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad (aka Balela, my way) (printer-friendly version)

1 can chickpeas & 1 can black beans (or two cans chickpeas), drained & rinsed
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/2 an English cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and diced
1/2 a small red onion, diced, or 3-5 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 red or green bell pepper, diced
1 good handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced

salad dressing shakenDressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 large clove garlic
1 tsp za’atar
1/2 tsp sumac
1/2 tsp salt
several grinds black pepper

Notes: I use grape tomatoes because they’re more reliable year-round, but if you have good-quality regular tomatoes, go ahead and use them.  This salad is excellent with a bit of feta crumbled into it- I don’t believe it’s traditional, but it makes it a little more substantial and adds a welcome texture and richness to the austerity of raw vegetables.  If you can’t be bothered with the za’atar and sumac, the salad will still be good without them- I threw them in because I happened to have some handy. And if you’re inclined to use a whole lemon, just sick with a 1:2 ratio of lemon to oil and up the seasonings a bit; if you have leftover dressing it’ll keep indefinitely in the fridge, and is great on green salad too.

Directions: Combine all of the vegetables in a large bowl.  Smash the garlic clove with the flat side of a chef’s knife.  Place in a small screw-top jar with the other dressing ingredients and shake well.  Let the garlic clove marinate in the dressing for 5-10 minutes and then fish it out and discard. Pour the dressing over the salad and stir well to combine.  Taste and adjust for salt and pepper, or for more oil or lemon juice according to your taste.  (It will almost definitely need more salt, but I’d rather err on the side of you having to add some.) Let the salad sit for at least 15-20 minutes to let the vegetables marinate and release some of their juices. Taste again and add more salt or dressing if needed.  If not serving immediately, wait until serving to add the parsley. For best flavor, serve at room temp or only slightly chilled.

11 responses to “mediterranean chickpea salad (aka balela, my way)

  1. I haven’t been all smitten with Smitten Kitchen for a long time now…from your description, I knew it was SK. I looked and sure enough, it was!

    • That’s funny that you knew who it was. I don’t have anything against SK, in fact I just recently made the buttermilk ice cream that was posted there, but that post in particular felt like she was phoning it in and I was just surprised at all the accolades.

  2. I’m not sure that all recipes have to be “blow away” recipes – I know that sometimes folks read food blogs because they want to learn how to cook. One of the things I love about the food blogging world is that there’s such a variety of food blogs. I don’t really like the cults that form around incredibly popular food blogs, though – a few are well-deserved (Kalofagas, for example) but many aren’t, IMHO. I do love your recipe for balela so please – feel free to print as many “non-blogworthy” recipes as you want! ;-)

  3. This salad looks perfect for summer days, also I appriciate creativity in cooking, rather than just going word by word according to the book.

  4. You are so right… I try and only comment when I feel a lot of effort and creativity went into a dish. I also do not want anyone commenting unless they feel I went over the top, and I do not post unless I feel I did this…

    I am excited, I ordered za’tar from a spice company to try and see if I like it. I am a BIG fan of balela from TJ, and your right; its expensive in the long run, so I want to make it, since I love it love it love it…maybe the tart and texture of the chickpeas and black beans…

  5. I love: Chickpeas. Black beans. Middle Eastern food. TJ’s balela. Cooking. Saving money. Oh… and Google.

    Thank you. :-))

  6. Thank so much for this recipe! I love the TJ’s Balela and wanted to make a larger quantity as I pretty much eat it all myself as soon as I take it out of the bag! I totally think that healthy, everyday recipes are blog worthy, especially if they are this good! I did my own variation of yours: (did not have peppers on hand or your spices) Instead I used cumin and paprika, delicious!!! Thanks again! Google and bloggers like you rock! :O)

  7. Oh, I also added mint like TJ’s.

  8. This salad is right up my alley! Such a great flavor combo!

  9. your version looks very good…we just ate at Le Chef in Farmington Hills, and their version was a bit different…no black beans or tomatoes and it seemed like some of the chick peas were processed/pureed and then added with the whole chick peas. It was very yummy and I was looking for a recipe for that version, but I think I will try yours as well! Thank you!

    • I think this is one of those dishes that has as many recipes as it does cooks! The partially pureed chickpeas sound like a little more work, but would lend a nice texture.

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