Among the many well-known Lebanese flavor makers (the za’atar, the cinnamon and allspice, the mint, and so on), there is a whole world of spicy Lebanese, including spicy Lebanese salsa, that did not find its way into the kitchens Abood (Dad’s family) and Abowd (Mom’s family). My dad was quite clear about where he stood on spice heat, and Mom didn’t disagree. There would be none of it at their table.

Spicy Lebanese salsa topped with fresh mint in a bowl, surrounded by pita bread on a platter

My first taste of spicy Lebanese went down at the house of Shaheen (Dan’s family). Cayenne in the kibbeh? Yes ma’am, and what a heaven that hint of heat—really just a whisper—imparted to our already perfect kibbeh nayeh. Then in Lebanon, the kibbeh feast in the home of our taxi driver’s sister (so Lebanese to be invited in) was spicy with heat and flavor beyond anything I’d tasted.

Some of the classics on the Lebanese hot list: spicy potatoes (batata harrah; find them in my cookbook!), or a spicy whole red snapper sauced with tahini (here’s my version), or a dollop of breakfast labneh with red pepper flakes, good as a strong cup of joe.

Green chili peppers arranged in a blue bowl

Tomatoes, mint, cilantro, garlic and chilis on a cutting board

Tomatoes in a red saute pan with chopped fresh herbs, stirred with a wooden spoon

And, this spicy Lebanese “salsa,” banadura harrah. The base of cooked tomato and garlic might make you think more Italian than Lebanese, until you add the mint, dried and fresh. Go all the way and add a hot chili pepper of your choosing or a hit of cayenne, which up until now might have made you think more Mexican than Lebanese.

Mom was skeptical as she stirred the tomatoes, trying the salsa for the first time recently. She reminded me that she’s never made spicy food because Dad doesn’t like it.

Mind you, he’s been gone 17 years.

When she saw me go in with the cayenne, she nearly shouted, “Oh God!” — which is my mom’s version of swearing. I assured her it was just a tiny, and it wouldn’t be too hot.

She was pretty well convinced she wasn’t even going to taste the salsa until she saw the mint make its way in.

“Ah, okay then,” she said, “get me a piece of bread.”

Lebanese salsa up close, in a bowl with a small spoon surrounded by bread for dipping

Spicy Lebanese Salsa

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 8
Recipe by: Maureen Abood
This spicy Lebanese salsa can be as hot or as mild as you like; adjust the heat by adding more or less of the chili pepper or cayenne. Be sure to use fresh mint and cilantro. Serve the salsa warm, as a dip with pita bread, pita chips, crostini, or corn chips.


  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small chili pepper, finely chopped, or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon crushed dried mint or Mint Salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • kosher salt, to taste


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add the tomatoes and chili pepper or cayenne and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomato juice thickens slightly, about 20 minutes.
  2. Season with dried mint and half of the fresh mint and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt to taste.

  3. Serve the salsa warm.







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