Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

Although Persian cuisine is full of starters, side dishes, and accompaniments, there aren’t many that can be classified as salad. The three most popular salads among Persians are sālād-é-shirāzi (tomato and cucumber salad), sālād-é-olevieh (which has Russian origins and is something between contemporary chicken, potato, and egg salads), and sālād-é-fassl (a seasonal fresh green salad often augmented with a bit of cooked ingredient such as pinto beans or beets). 

 Sālād-é-shirāzi is often referred to as the unofficial national salad of Iran, primarily because of its popularity, but also because its primary colors of green (from cucumber), white (from onion), and red (from tomato) are the three primary colors of the flag of Iran. Sālād-é-shirāzi takes its name from the southern Iranian city of Shirāz, which is known as Iran’s city of flowers, literature, and poets. This refreshing salad’s main ingredients are cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, which are tossed with a simple vinaigrette made from olive oil, an acidic ingredient (most often verjuice, though vinegar, lime, or lemon juice can be used), plus salt and pepper. It has a pleasant salty-sour flavor with a crisp bite from the onion and cucumber and a welcome juicy finish from the tomato.

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

 While Persian cooking traditions date back 2,500 years, this salad is a relatively modern dish that came together in the late 19th century, when tomatoes were first introduced to Iran. 

 Sālād-é-shirāzi is a very popular accompaniment at many Persian meals, particularly when there is some type of rice or kabāb as the main dish. In the hot and dry days of summer, when there are plenty of cucumbers and tomatoes available, this salad can also be served as a light and refreshing meal all its own, accompanied with Persian flat breads such as lavash, barbari, tāftoon, or sangak.

The Origins of Sālād-é-Shirāzi

Similar salads are prevalent in other Middle Eastern and Central Asian food cultures, such as the Afghani salad, Israeli salad, Indian kachumber salad, and the Palestinian falahiyeh salad. While I have not seen any authoritative information that either proves or disproves whether these similar salads from Middle East and Central Asia are related and/or are based on each other, there’s at least a good chance Sālād-é-Shirāzi is a somewhat related to the these similar diced tomato/cucumber/onion salads in the neighboring regions. 

While similar in their core ingredients, these salads all have their own unique identity, attributes and background stories. The people of Shirāz have a folkloric tale (although most likely not historically accurate as this is not an ancient salad) about the origins of the sālād-é-shirāzi. It centers around a regional monarch who wanted to ensure the continued spiritedness of the people of Shiraz.

As the story goes, he devised a culinary competition where people of Shirāz were to prepare a version of his own complex and time-consuming salad recipe. His recipe called for the laborious tasks of uniformly chopping the vegetables, pressing olives for preparing olive oil, and juicing green unripe grapes for making verjuice. On the final day of the competition, when everyone was supposed to present their prepared dishes for judgment, the monarch declared everyone a winner, because everyone had done an outstanding job of following his complicated recipe. From that day forward, the recipe was commonly known as sālād-é-shirāzi.

The Key Ingredients in Shirāzi Salad

While modern versions of this recipe no longer require you to extract your own olive oil or make your own verjuice, the key to success with this simple salad is choosing the best quality ingredients possible.

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

Generally speaking, when it comes to the exact ratios of the ingredients, this salad is quite forgiving. More important is an evenness of cut for each vegetable ,which will ensure that each spoonful has a balanced amount of each ingredient and the proper texture. Try to aim for roughly equal volumes of uniformly diced cucumbers and tomatoes and a slightly lesser amount of onion that is diced a bit finer than the cucumbers and tomatoes.

Cucumber: The recipe calls for Persian cucumbers, which have fewer and smaller seeds than other varieties such as English cucumber or American garden cucumbers. Persian cucumbers are thin skinned, crisp, and aromatic. If unavailable at your local supermarket, English cucumbers are an excellent substitute with an equal amount by weight. While I prefer peeling the cucumbers in my salad for a less bitter flavor and more refined texture, they can be left unpeeled for even more crunch.Tomatoes: Practically speaking, any variety of tomato will do. What is important is using tomatoes that are as ripe as possible, as this salad will not be exceptional if the tomatoes are not good. Onions: Red onions are the preferred onion type in this recipe. They are pleasantly pungent and bring assertive flavor and crunchiness that balances out the mild flavor of the cucumber and the juicy texture of the tomatoes.The bright purple hue of red onions adds visual appeal as well. Yellow onion will work in this recipe too, but I would not use white or Vidalia onions as they are a bit too sweet for this salad.Crushed Dried Mint Leaves: The salads I enjoyed growing up in Iran always had mint in them. The mint adds a delicate aroma without masking the flavors of the accompanying freshly chopped ingredients. For Persians who still subscribe to ancient culinary humoral principles and practices (where warm, cold, dry, and moist temperaments were assigned to ingredients and dishes), mint is not optional because mint has a warm temperament that balances the cold temperaments of the cucumber and tomato.Acid: Persians love their souring agents. The most traditional acid used in this salad is verjuice. In fact, in Iran’s Fars Province—of which Shiraz is the capital—this salad is also known as the sālād-é-abghooreh (meaning “verjuice salad”). Red-wine, apple-cider vinegar, lime juice, or lemon juice are all acceptable substitutions for the verjuice, and popular among many Persians. Seville Oranges (Bitter Oranges) are a prized souring agent in Persian cooking. If in season and available, try replacing half of the acidic ingredient in this recipe with Seville orange juice.

A Dressing That Practically Makes Itself

Some raw-tomato recipes on Serious Eats praise the benefits of salting and then draining the tomatoes in advance to draw out water and concentrate the tomato’s flavor. While yes, this is helpful if you want to avoid a puddle of tomato juices collecting on the bottom of the bowl, in the case of this salad, I actually want the pool of flavorful liquid at the bottom—it adds fresh vegetal flavor to the salad. 

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

The naturally released liquids from the tomato and cucumber are critical elements of this recipe, combining with the added acid, oil, salt, and pepper to form an even more flavorful dressing. To this end, it’s necessary to let the salad sit for at least 15 minutes before serving so there’s time for the dressing to “make itself.” Persians never let this growing pool of dressing go to waste. It is best to spoon it over rice or throw a few small chunks of bread or crackers in to soak the dressing up and enjoy.

Serving Suggestions

Generally speaking, this dish is considered a side dish that can accompany practically any main dish, except maybe soup-like mains. If the main dish involves some sort of rice dish, many Persians serve several spoonfuls of this salad on their primary plate so that a bit of the naturally formed salad dressing is absorbed by some of the rice. For a salad with a bit of a fiery kick, consider adding two cloves of minced garlic or one finely chopped small fresh Thai green chile.

In a large bowl, whisk verjuice (or vinegar or citrus juice), oil, dried mint, salt, and pepper until combined. Stir in tomato, cucumber, and onion and toss until well coated. 

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

Let salad sit for 15 minutes until flavors blend and tomatoes and cucumbers begin to release their juices. Sprinkle with sumac. Serve. 

Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari


Make Sure to purchase dried spearmint, and not dried peppermint for this recipe.

Any tomato variety will work in this recipe, as long as it is fresh and ripe. Information on how to dice tomatoes can be found here.

English cucumber may be substituted for Persian cucumber with an equal amount by weight. Information on how to dice cucumbers can be found here.

Seville Oranges (Bitter Oranges) are a prized souring agent in Persian cooking. If in season and available, try replacing half of the acidic ingredient in this recipe with Seville orange juice.

For a salad with a bit of a fiery kick, consider adding two cloves of minced garlic or one finely chopped small fresh Thai green chile.

This salad is most often served as a side dish, but is also great served as a light main dish along with some bread.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The dressed salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days before serving. The tomatoes will soften in texture, but the onion and cucumbers will retain most of their crunch.

Alternatively, the vegetables can be cut and refrigerated in separate airtight containers for up to 3 days then tossed with the prepared dressing right before serving.

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