This delicious chickpea salad recipe really is up there with the best. Vibrant, fresh and flavoursome, it’s both healthy and naturally vegan. And not a bit of lettuce in sight. Serve as a light lunch or supper with pitta bread, as a side dish or as part of a mezze spread.
What is Balela Salad?
Belala (pronounced bah-lay-la) is the Arabic term for cooked chickpeas. So, in the Middle East, balela salad is a cooked chickpea salad. There are many variations of the recipe according to both family and regional traditions.
This means the chickpeas are cooked, but all the other ingredients, whatever they may be, are raw. This creates a delicious salad with a good mix of textures and flavours.
I first tried it in Egypt many many years ago, where it’s mostly called salata balela. It’s a vibrant, healthy and colourful salad which is really easy to make at home.
How To Make Middle Eastern Chickpea Salad
As with most Middle Eastern salads, this one is simple and incredibly easy to make. Really, it’s just a few chopped vegetables, herbs and a zingy dressing. Well, let’s not forget the chickpeas. And unless you cook your own, they don’t involve much more than opening a tin.
It may not sound like much, but what makes this salad particularly good is the amount of fresh herbs involved. You really can’t get away with a sprig or two, you need bunches of the stuff. And wow, what a difference they make. Just cut them nice and small.
Once assembled, the chickpea salad will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for four to five days. Just take it out of the cold an hour or so before you want to serve it, as it’s best enjoyed at room temperature.
Ingredients for Middle Eastern Chickpea Salad
Ingredients are key to this chickpea salad. Try and get the freshest and best quality you can and you’ll have a gorgeous salad that will have everyone begging for more.
The only ingredients that might be a bit tricky to get hold of are the optional ones. And you can usually find even those in supermarkets these days.
A good dressing can make or break a salad. This one is both zingy and fresh. The main ingredients are pretty standard for a Middle Eastern salad dressing. Lemon juice and a olive oil are de rigeur, as is salt and freshly ground black pepper. But more unusually, the zest of the lemon is used as well as garlic.
In Egypt it’s fairly common to add sumac to the dressing too. I also like to add a few chilli flakes, which is less common in Egypt, but popular in some other parts of the region.
Lemons are one of those ingredients that are used in nearly all Middle Eastern salads. They provide freshness and their sour zing counterbalances the bitterness in olive oil most beautifully.
In this dressing, we add the grated zest of the lemon as well as the juice. This adds a real aromatic punch.
I use organic lemons as the skins are not only unwaxed, but are less likely to contain any pesticides or fungicides. If you can’t get hold of organic ones, go for unwaxed as the next best thing.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
It’s worth investing in a good flavoursome extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings. There are many to choose from but go for the best you can afford.
Chickpeas provide both the substance and protein for this Middle Eastern salad. For the best flavour and texture, cook your own if you can. I find tinned ones slightly tainted, even if I drain and rinse them. And they’re not always as soft as I’d like them either.
That said, I often end up using tinned for sheer convenience. For this recipe I’ve gone for a 400g (15 ounce) can which is about 1 ½ cups of cooked chickpeas. If this is a main meal for four, add an extra tin.
Stir the chickpeas into the dressing whilst you’re chopping the other ingredients. This gives them a chance to soak up the flavours.
If you’re eating a salad as a main meal, you really want a lot of different textures going on as well as flavours. Cucumber and sweet peppers provide the crunch in this chickpea salad.
Sweet peppers not only provide a bit of crunch, but they also give sweetness to the salad. It doesn’t really matter what colour you use, but the sweeter and crunchier the better.
If you’re buying peppers specifically for this recipe, yellow or orange make a nice colour contrast to the other ingredients. As it happened, I had a red pepper when I made this particular balela salad, so that’s what I used.
Cool crunchy cucumber is a must in pretty much any Middle Eastern salad. It’s refreshing and adds flavour, texture and bulk. Small homegrown cucumbers are best if you can get them. Sadly, we haven’t grown any for several years.
I like to take the watery seeds out of my cucumbers for this sort of salad. To do this, halve the cucumber lengthways, scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and discard. Then slice into halves or quarters, depending on the size of your cucumber and add to the bowl.
Every salad needs a few flavour bombs lobbed in and this balela salad is no exception.
For the onions, you want something that’s fairly mild. I like spring onions (scallions) best for this chickpea salad. But you could swap them for red onions, salad onions or even shallots. Just slice them fairly finely on the diagonal.
Add the onion to the dressing at the same time as the chickpeas. This gives the lemon juice a chance to work its magic and mellow the onion’s pungency.
When it comes to tomatoes, you really want them ripe and juicy. I tend to use cherry tomatoes, but it really doesn’t matter which type you go for. Flavour is, after all, more important than looks. If you grow your own, so much the better.
If you use cherry tomatoes, just halve or quarter them, depending on size. For anything larger, just chop them roughly.
Olives add a slight bitter edge to this chickpea salad as well as a little saltiness.
You can use whatever olives you like, green or black. The more flavoursome they are, however, the better your salad will be. Kalamata are always a good bet and will provide a nice colour contrast to the greens in the salad.
In the photos you can see here, I used green olives stuffed with red peppers because that’s what I had in the fridge at the time.
Whatever olives you use, just make sure they’re stoned. Cracking a tooth on an olive pit really isn’t anyone’s idea of fun.
I’ve already mentioned a couple of the aromatics which help to enrich the flavour of this salad. That is the lemon zest and garlic used for the dressing. There are also a couple in the optional extras mentioned below. But the key ones in this balela salad are the fresh herbs: mint and parsley. They really make this salad pop.
Much like cucumber, mint is both cooling and refreshing. It’s an absolute must for this salad, which just wouldn’t be as good without it.
Chop it finely along with the parsley and add it just before you give the salad its final stir.
Parsley is a brilliant all-round herb that is used in many cuisines throughout the world. It adds a clean, green, slightly peppery flavour to many dishes and it’s used a lot in Middle Eastern cuisine.
I grow both parsley and mint in the garden and it feels like such a luxury. They’re both an integral part of my summer cooking and I can grab a sprig or bunch of either whenever I’m in need of fresh herbs.
You want a small bunch for this chickpea salad. Chop it up as finely as you can and add it just before you mix everything together.
Sometimes you just don’t have the ingredients required for a recipe, so I’m giving a few optional extras here, but you don’t actually need them.
I like to add sumac and mild chilli flakes for a bit of extra va va va voom. But in any case, it’s always nice to make a salad your own.
Aleppo chilli flakes, also known as Turkish pul biber, are mild, but full of flavour. I highly recommend trying them if you haven’t already. They work particularly well in the chickpea salad dressing.
Alternatively, if you like a bit of heat, add half a teaspoon of hot chilli flakes.
Sumac (pronounced soo-mac) is a hugely popular spice in the Middle East. It’s made from the berries of the, you guessed it, sumac bush, which are then dried and ground to a dark red powder. It has a tart light lemony taste which works so well with Middle Eastern flavours. No wonder it’s used throughout the region.
As well as giving a flavour boost to vegetables and salad dressings, it’s delicious sprinkled over hummus or yoghurt, which you can then use as a dip.
If you haven’t yet tried it, do search some out. It’s widely available these days and it really is a good addition to the dressing for this best of chickpea salads.
If you’re not vegan, add some crumbled feta or goat’s cheese for an additional flavour, texture and nutritional element. If you are vegan, either try a crumbly vegan cheese or serve with tahini sauce.
What To Eat With Middle Eastern Chickpea Salad
It’s always a good to have another salad recipe up your sleeve for summer. This vegan chickpea salad is particularly versatile as, unless you’re allergic to chickpeas, everyone can eat and enjoy it.
- Serve it as a light lunch or supper. Accompany the balela salad with warmed pitta breads and maybe a drizzle of tahini sauce.
- Include it as part of a mezze spread. Falafel, hummus and spinach filo pastries are all good for this particular party.
- Top with crumbled feta or goat’s cheese for a main meal, if you’re not vegan. If you are vegan there are good alternative vegan cheeses you can use instead.
- It makes a great side dish for up to six people. Use it to accompany bbq mains, fluffy quinoa or any other meal that works well with salad.
Other Vegetarian Salad Recipes You Might Like
- Black bean & bulgur wheat salad
- Caprese salad bowl
- Quinoa salad with watercress, walnuts & blue cheese
- Sausage salad for a sizzling summer
- Sicilian pasta salad (vegan)
- Vegetarian salade Niçoise
Keep in Touch
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you make this Middle Eastern chickpea salad, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. And do please rate the recipe. Have you any top tips? Do share photos on social media too and use the hashtag #tinandthyme, so I can spot them.
If you’d like more Middle Eastern inspired recipes, follow the link and you’ll find I have quite a lot of them. All delicious and nutritious, of course.
Middle Eastern Chickpea Salad. PIN IT.
Middle Eastern Chickpea Salad – The Recipe
Middle Eastern Chickpea Salad
- 250 g cooked chickpeas or 1 x 400g (15 ounce) tin rinsed and drained
- 8-12 olives (depending on size) Any olives you like, but black provide a nice colour contast and stoned ones make it easier to eat.
- 3 spring onions
- 12 cherry tomatoes halved or quartered depending on size
- 1 bell pepper Any colour you like, but yellow or orange make a nice contrast to the other colours (I used a red one)
- ½ cucumber or 1 small one
- small bunch parsley
- small bunch of mint
- 1 organic lemon – juice and zest
- 4 tbsp flavoursome extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove minced or finely chopped
- ½ tsp sea salt
- good grinding of black pepper
- 1 tsp aleppo chilli flakes (optional)
- ½ tsp sumac (optional)
- First of all, make the dressing so that the chickpeas and onion have time to marinade whilst you prepare and chop the other ingredients.½ cucumber or 1 small one, small bunch parsley, small bunch of mint, 1 organic lemon – juice and zest, 4 tbsp flavoursome extra virgin olive oil, 1 garlic clove
- In a medium sized salad bowl, whisk all of the dressing ingredients together.
- Stir in the drained chickpeas.
- Halve or quarter the olives, depending on size, then add to the bowl along with the onions.
- Next chop the tomatoes and add those. Their juices will meld with the dressing.
- Chop the pepper into small chunks and add those to the bowl. No need to stir at this point.
- Halve the cucumber lengthways, scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and discard, then slice into halves or quarters, depending on size and add to the bowl.
- Lastly chop the mint and parsley as finely as you can. Add to the bowl and stir everything together.
- Check for seasoning and serve straight away or cover and place in the fridge.