Middle Eastern fried tomatoes come in all forms and flavours; some are made with meat, while others are sautéed with eggs (like Shakshuka). But this Jordanian Galayet Bandora is a main course/starter that I consider to be one of the yummiest olive-oil based offerings in the Middle Eastern cuisine. What I love about this dish is that it only works with olive oil; trying to make it with any other fat will totally ruin it! I also honestly think vegetarians will love this one!
The True Jordanian Olive Oil Tradition
Jordan, this small Kingdom nestling in the heart of the Middle East, is one of the world’s largest olive oil producers, with its own inheritance of olive trees that date back to more than 6,000 years. If you really crave good quality olive oil, then you must look for Jordanian olive oil in your local store!
When it is olive harvest season, which is typically in Autumn, people start making their orders from the knowledgeable elders in their neighbourhoods or workplaces. There is always someone you know who has at least one degree of separation to a good olive oil press that produces Extra Virgin Olive Oil. These are dispersed all over the Kingdom, but the two major cities known for their olive oil presses are the northern gems of Jerash and Ajloun, which are mountainous areas that are over 1,000 metres above sea-level.
Although not everyone is fluent in all olive fruit varieties, it is common practice that you want to buy a large-sized olive oil canister (known as “Tanakeh” in the local dialect) made of good-quality olive fruit, and not the blander desert-grown variety that people try to avoid at all costs. Although olive oil bottles of all shapes, designs, and sizes are available on supermarket shelves across the country, the tradition of buying at least one large can that should last you a whole year (depending on the size of your family), is still very much alive.
Fried Tomatoes from the Lowest Point on Earth
Many local households in Jordan, especially in the rural areas, are known for never exchanging their prized olive oil cooking ingredient for more “modern” substitutes (like corn oil or sunflower oil), and till this day continue to make such delicious dishes with this vitamin-rich pressed fruit.
One such dish is Galayet Bandora, which is the local dish of the residents and farmers of Ghor-el-Safi, globally known as the Jordan Valley and the Kingdom’s food basket. The Jordan Valley is part of the larger Jordan Rift Valley, which hosts the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth at 790 metres below sea level. Naturally, the warm-weathered Ghor does not produce olives, but is certainly known as home to the humble “Jordanian Tomato” (Bandora Urdinyeh).
Whereas herbs, garlic, onion, tomato sauce, olive oil and lemon are typical flavours found in Jordan, this dish is probably one of the rare ones that celebrate almost every staple flavour found in the local cuisine.
These Jordanian-style Middle Eastern fried tomatoes are simple to make and are served with pita bread, with no forks or spoons involved. There are also three or four versions that people call “Galayet Bandora;” some make it with onions, others prefer it with garlic, but my recipe has both. One other version, which I’m not too familiar with, has minced meat added to the mix and this one is savoured with rice on the side, instead of pita bread.
Middle Eastern Fried Tomatoes the Jordanian Way: Cooking Tips
The way you fry and sauté the tomatoes is very crucial to the cooking process of this delectable dish. It all starts with “caramelising” the tomatoes to successfully create a tomato stew with a staple Jordanian tang.
Although you can ditch the chilli if you want to, this dish is typically made with a mild degree of hotness owing to the Serrano peppers that are added to the dish for both flavour and decoration.
A lot of families also like to peel the tomatoes before cooking them, but in this recipe we’re using the tomatoes with their flesh. To easily peel the skin off, create two cross-shaped incisions at the top of each tomato, submerge them in hot water for a few minutes, and then peel the skin off.
For best results, use shallow and nonstick cookware, like a medium-to-large frypan or wok.
Galayet Bandora: The Recipe
If you’ve tried other versions of Middle Eastern fried tomatoes and crave a simple vegetarian dish, Galayet Bandora will hopefully impress you with its simplicity and rustic deliciousness.
- 3-4 medium tomatoes, thickly sliced
- ½ Serrano pepper, sliced
- 1 Serrano pepper, kept whole
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Slice up the tomatoes, onion, and ½ a Serrano pepper. Mince the garlic.
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, and add the sliced onions, minced garlic and sliced Serrano peppers, as well as the whole Serrano pepper. Sauté until the onions are a lovely golden colour. Make sure not to burn the garlic.
- Arrange the tomatoes in one-layer rows across the frypan or wok. Try not to overlap. Do not add the tomato juice resulting from the slicing. Keep it for later.
- Keep the pan uncovered and turn up the heat to caramelise the tomatoes. Keep your eye on the pan, and when the tomatoes lose some of their liquid and form a caramelised consistency on the edges, stir the tomatoes to mix them up a bit.
- Add the tomato juice remaining on your cutting board (if any); turn down the heat and cover the frypan to simmer. Cook until the sauce is nice and thick, but not too dry.
- Add salt and crushed black pepper to taste.
- Serve with hot-from-the-oven pita bread.
Illustrated recipe + Food illustration by illustrator and artist Yaansoon