Vibrant herb salad with radish, cucumber and feta is inspired by sabzi khordan, Persian ‘plate of greens’. It is as good for your body as it is for your taste buds.
Cucumber, the unsung salad hero
Cucumber, my favourite underrated fruit (it’s fruit! it’s got seeds! shouldn’t there be a category called ‘savoury fruit’ I wonder?), is usually included in vaguely Greek salads with tomato and feta cheese.
Whilst I’m absolutely not dissing authentic Greek salads, our English ones are usually boring, since we don’t have Greek-ripe tomatoes and the feta is often dry.
The other common scene for cucumber is in sandwiches. And cucumber sandwiches, the posh garden party classic, are so old fashioned they are ripe for a modern revival. Maybe, I don’t know: based on bread crust alone, as opposed to those crustless, soggy afternoon tea participants of old.
And finally, poor cucumbers get pickled to share the fate of eggs and little onions. Which is absolutely fine as long as they are gherkins and not those giant numbers sliced thickly, with lots of seeds and no flavour.
Cucumber: size matters
There are better ways to use the cucumber, but go for the smaller varieties like mini, Persian or ridge that have thankfully started appearing alongside those enormous, pale and tasteless breeds populating the supermarkets.
Did you know for instance that cucumbers are gorgeous with honey? And that’s the proper Greek way? A bit of feta, a few cucumber slices and good drizzles of good honey: the perfect lunch, dessert, whatever.
And the salad below is an excellent environment for a cucumber. It’s Samin Nosrat’s recipe inspired by sabzi khordan, Persian side plate of herbs served with everything, especially heavy meats.
Cucumber gets on much better with a radish than a tomato and the feta is there just adding a little substance. And even though I’m not a very herby person (tabbouleh is not my fave), this is such a good combination that I’ll happily graze on the mint, tarragon and the other things green on the bed of crunchy salads.
Sabzi khordan means ‘eating greens’ and they certainly eat their greens in Iran. A platter of fresh, mixed herbs is served with almost every meal.
Persian combination features common herbs like basil, dill, mint and parsley but they also consider radish, leeks and spring onions to be herby enough to include them in the sabzi plate.
And so, since cucumbers are unquestionably green, they fit the sabzi company very well too.
How to make the radish, cucumber and herb salad?
Bunches of fresh herbs are the baseline, and the choice of them is yours. My personal preferences are as in the recipe below, parsley, chives, mint, dill and tarragon but do add basil and watercress, or coriander and baby spinach if that’s what you favour.
The radishes and cucumbers should be sliced thinly. As for the latter, the smaller in size the better: the mini cucumbers are actually the Persian variety, meant to be in a Persian greens platter.
The dressing is basic: lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper. And that might suffice, unless you like to have a little more substance to your summer salad, so it’s a meal in itself instead of being a grazing extra to a meze.
That’s why there is good feta cheese crumbled all over the radish and cucumber medley, and a handful of toasted walnut pieces to add crunchy texture to it. Half the amount of the dressing will be then drizzled over the plate.
The bunch of roughly chopped herbs should be first tossed in the remaining dressing so it gets even more vibrantly green and glistening with the olive oil and lemon emulsion. Sit them on top, or toss them into the rest of the salad – and tuck into the healthiest imaginable dish of the summer.
More Middle Eastern salad recipes
Fresh cucumbers with cumin tahini dressing, sprinkled with extra sesame seeds are crunchy, juicy and wonderfully refreshing. Try them as a side for beef burger patties.
Roasted pepper salad with soft cheese. Red peppers are roasted under the grill and skinned, tossed with spiced dressing and served with soft cheese or feta.
Giant or Israeli couscous salad with tomatoes, roasted peppers and feta cheese. This is a great recipe for a vegetarian salad that can be eaten warm or cold.
More Persian recipes
Mejadra is a simple lentil and brown rice dish and my recipe has a great fried onions shortcut tip. Levantine rice and lentils were the biblical Esau’s ‘bowl of stew’. Probably.
Mast o khiar is Persian yoghurt and cucumber dip with fresh herbs, walnuts and raisins. Samin Nosrat’s recipe suggests using labneh, strained yoghurt cheese, and that is a complete winner.
Persian baked rice with saffron and dill (tahchin), with tahdig: burnt, crisp and crunchy layer of rice at the bottom. This is the easiest Persian rice recipe with perfect tahdig every time.