Spicy Lebanese Salsa
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.
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.
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.”
Spicy Lebanese Salsa
- 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
- 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.
- Season with dried mint and half of the fresh mint and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt to taste.
- Serve the salsa warm.
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I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!
Can’t wait to try this. I’ve told at least a be-zillion people about your cookbook (and purchased it for 3 friends!) Just wanted to say that whoever is doing your photography is doing a fabulous job. Keep up the good work! I enjoy your blog tremendously.
Melany, thank you so very much–for sharing my cookbook with so many people, and for your kind words about my photos (which I do take myself!). Please keep in touch!
That looks so good. I grew up with hot peppers always on the table and in a lot of our Lebanese food. Also he made a spicy cold sauce to put on top of Kibbee Nye. It was, ground onions ,green peppers, parsley and HOT red peppers, salt and pepper to taste. We called it TUBBLEY.
How delicious Diane! I haven’t seen this sauce for kibbeh and I can’t wait to try it!
Sounds good but my family also never had hot Lebanese food even though they raised peppers.
Looks lovely, all flavours we love plus I have all ingredients on hand. I do have a question about the amount of fresh mint though as it’s not stated in the recipe. I’m assuming it’s 1 tablespoon or so but wanted to check before making.
Thanks Joycelyn! Yes, about a tablespoon of fresh mint. Missing “1” is corrected, thank you!
❤️❤️❤️ your story Maureen! I was able to visualize your sweet Mother’s face when she saw the hot spice being added to the dish.
You know it Diane!!!
Your use of the word banadura made me think of my Jidoo, who died before I was born. My dad told a story that Jidoo was listening to a radio quiz show where the contestant had to name three vegetables beginning with the letter b. Jidoo commented and nodded approvingly as the contestant said beets, then beans. Contestant was struggling to come up with a third one, and Jidoo threw up his hands and yelled in exasperation “banadura, banadura!”
Love your cookbook and your blog, as do my kids and siblings. I may have to try this salsa.
Joe this is just hilarious and so perfectly spot-on for our Jidoos!!! Thank you!
I have to agree with Roger, nothing “hot” in our kitchen either.
You’re in good company Fileeb!!