I adore fattoush salad; I’ve been known to fall upon it like it was my first meal after a week of starving in the desert, and small children have been warned to stay away from me while I’m eating it. It’s that good. And sadly, it’s not terribly well known in my corner of the world.
Fattoush is a beautiful salad that features a gorgeous blend of bright, citrusy flavors, fresh herbs, and savory crisp shards of pita. It’s an amazing Middle Eastern bread salad, and it’s easy, especially as ingredients are more and more readily available, even here in my centrally isolated little burg. I’m sure there’s some of you out there thinking, a salad is a salad, right? Raw veggies, a dressing, how exciting can it be? I hear that, I do, and I understand that raw veggies can seem (seem!) a little…meh, OK, what else you got? But the abundant fresh vegetables serve as a healthy backdrop for a freakishly delicious dressing that, combined with fresh herbs and toasted pita, steals the show. Here’s how to go about a fattoush dressing:
- 4 teaspoons ground sumac, soaked in 4 teaspoons warm water for 15 minutes
- 3 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons (or more) pomegranate molasses (local peeps, you CAN get this at the grocery store)
- 2 small garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons (or more) white wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon dried mint
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
Sumac, for those of us unfamiliar with it, is a tart spice that we could, theoretically, harvest from the tons and tons and tons of central PA sumac trees, most of which (I think) are growing in my back yard.
Soak the four teaspoons of sumac in an equal amount of warm-to-tap-water-hot water to help the flavors bloom and turn it into a tart, bright flavor base. Don’t use boiling water; it will turn the sumac bitter. (If you added a cup full of water and then strained it, you’d have a tea, which is apparently a common drink in other parts of the world, and I’ll have to check out for a later blog.) While it’s soaking, assemble things like your lemon and mint.
And yes, of course zest the lemon first. Why wouldn’t you? Lemon zest is just deliciousness; throwing it away seems foolhardy at best. If you have fresh mint (like I did, see above) use it, just remember to use double the amount of dried mint they ask for in the recipe since fresh herbs are less concentrated than dried ones. And if you don’t have white wine vinegar or prefer champagne vinegar or white balsamic vinegar (my personal favorite), feel free to use that instead.
Once the sumac has soaked for 15 minutes and everything else is chopped/zested/juiced, put it all in a small mixing bowl and whisk in some good, fruity extra-virgin olive oil. Then tinker. Maybe you want some more pomegranate molasses? Maybe you want a splash more vinegar? Play with it until the flavors please you, then season with some salt. The dressing can, of course, be made ahead of time and allowed to sit in your fridge or on a countertop until you’re ready to eat. I always think homemade dressings taste better after giving the flavors some time to mingle, so if you can get this done earlier in the day, bravo! Go for it. As you get closer to dinner time, prep the rest of your salad. Heat your oven to 350°. Take two (or three, if you want one to snack on later, like I do) pita breads, put them on a cookie tray and brush their tops with some olive oil. Then season them with a dusting of za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend of sesame seeds and (more) sumac and other delicious things as well. Toss the pita in your hot oven and check them after 6 minutes. They usually take more like 8 minutes to get crispy and golden-brown, but depending on your oven… *shrug* And there’s no rescue for burnt pita, so check early, check often.
And you’ll get this.
You want them toasted and brown and dry enough to easily crumble, since they’re going to serve like big flat za’atar-y croutons. Oh, heavens, yes you do want that.
As far as assembling the salad goes, the “official” recipe calls for this.
- 3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 pound Persian cucumbers, or one 1-pound English hothouse cucumber, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
- 6 scallions, thinly sliced
- 2 Little Gem or baby romaine lettuces, or 1 small head romaine lettuce, trimmed, cut crosswise into 3/4″ strips
- 2 cups (loosely packed) flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 2 cups purslane leaves or additional 3/4″-strips romaine lettuce
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- Ground sumac (optional)
But I’m here to tell you, you can use whatever kind of vegetables you want, in whatever proportion. I recommend going heavy on the cucumber and less heavy on the scallions, and adding in some thinly sliced red onions. Personally, I’m not crazy about carrots or celery in fattoush but will say yes to radishes every time. Don’t skimp on the fresh herbs, but feel free to use whatever ones you have handy: basil, mint, chives? Go for it. Parsley or cilantro? Yum! I’d stay away from using fresh rosemary or oregano because I think they’d compete too heavily with the dressing, but otherwise? Play with your food! See what you like. And I also tend to not garnish with more sumac at the end, simply because I want the dressing to shine and not become overwhelming, with the brassy addition of more sumac. Sometimes, less is more.
When the pita has cooled and your vegetables and herbs are all chopped and in your salad bowl, crumble the pita and mix it in with the salad. Top with some dressing (yes, I always dress salads at the last minute) and…voila!
The tart from the dressing combined with the freshness of the herbs and the savory crisp pita makes the flavors burst out of this salad. I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t love it after the first try, so if you’re looking for ways to perk up your drive to eat more healthily, give the fattoush salad a whirl.