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.

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

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.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Servings 8

Ingredients
  

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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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13 Comments

  1. Melany Mack on April 28, 2017 at 1:03 PM

    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.

    • Maureen Abood on April 29, 2017 at 12:42 PM

      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!

  2. Diane Barimo on April 28, 2017 at 1:10 PM

    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.

    • Maureen Abood on April 29, 2017 at 12:41 PM

      How delicious Diane! I haven’t seen this sauce for kibbeh and I can’t wait to try it!

  3. Roger Toomey on April 28, 2017 at 9:57 PM

    Sounds good but my family also never had hot Lebanese food even though they raised peppers.

  4. Joycelyn on August 5, 2017 at 1:42 PM

    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.
    Thank you
    Joycelyn

    • Maureen Abood on August 7, 2017 at 2:04 PM

      Thanks Joycelyn! Yes, about a tablespoon of fresh mint. Missing “1” is corrected, thank you!

  5. Diane Shaheen on June 17, 2019 at 11:44 AM

    ❤️❤️❤️ your story Maureen! I was able to visualize your sweet Mother’s face when she saw the hot spice being added to the dish.

    • Maureen Abood on June 20, 2019 at 9:50 AM

      You know it Diane!!!

  6. Joe Joseph on May 4, 2021 at 1:34 PM

    Maureen,
    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.

    • Maureen Abood on May 25, 2021 at 10:00 AM

      Joe this is just hilarious and so perfectly spot-on for our Jidoos!!! Thank you!

  7. Fileeb on May 4, 2021 at 2:34 PM

    Habbie
    I have to agree with Roger, nothing “hot” in our kitchen either.

    • Maureen Abood on May 25, 2021 at 9:58 AM

      You’re in good company Fileeb!!

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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!

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