Across the Eastern Mediterranean, grilled meats often are paired with a jumble of lightly dressed parsley tossed with raw onion and a sprinkle of tangy sumac. It is a simple, spare yet still bold combination that brings fresh, brightly acidic contrast to the rich meat.
We knew this salad—called sogan piyazi in Turkey—could lighten the load of many hearty dishes.
It works in part because the herbs are treated as the salad greens themselves, creating a boldly fresh, aromatic base, rather than being relegated to the role of an easily overlooked garnish. That freshness helps balance the sharpness of pungent ingredients, but raw onions nonetheless can be a tough sell. So at Milk Street, we sought to tame their bite.
When we use them raw, we often soak onions in lemon juice or vinegar; the acid neutralizes some of their pungency. But in this case—since onions make up nearly half the salad’s volume—not even that was quite enough to mellow their strong, raw flavor. We wanted them to complement the parsley and meat, not compete with them.
We tried a variety of techniques, including soaking red onions—chosen for their bright color—in hot water, cold water and salted water; and tossing them with salt and letting them drain. Eventually, we combined our usual acid soaking method with a technique we use with kale and cabbage—a salt massage.
Salting sliced onions, then gently massaging them, tenderizes them by breaking down the cell walls and drawing out moisture. We followed this with a soak in lemon juice, further tempering their flavor and leaving them softer, sweeter and mellower.
With a solution for milder onions in hand, the rest of the salad followed traditional recipes—ample parsley, a light lemon-olive oil dressing and a citrusy sprinkle of sumac.
Sogan piyazi traditionally is served with grilled meats, its fresh and acidic flavors balancing the savory richness. We found it also brightened a variety of other dishes, including:
- Wraps filled with grilled vegetables, stir-fried meat or crisp falafel
- Roasted vegetables to create a robust alternative to a leafy salad
- Crostini spread with whipped feta or creamy goat cheese
- Sliced tomatoes and a salty or tangy cheese
- Chopped and massaged kale salad with toasted nuts or croutons
- A simple potato salad of boiled, cubed potatoes and a drizzle of olive oil
- Whole grains (such as brown rice, barley or quinoa) topped with a fried egg
Massaging kosher salt into fibrous produce such as onions, cabbage and kale softens their harsh flavors and tenderizes them by breaking down cell walls.