Tired of my fascination with Lebanese cuisine yet? No? Oh good! Because I would hate for you to get bored, especially right now. Pictured above (and below) is fattoush, a classic lebanese salad that has the flavors of sumac—an awesome fruity-lemony spice that’s derived from some sort of fruit off of some sort of shrub—parsley, mint, scallions, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, and toasted pita bread. And in case you haven’t realized it yet, that combination of ingredients also happens to make for a salad that is my favorite yet in texture. Crunchy, juicy, crispy, toasty. All good things.
I ate this with Waylon alongside some grilled ribeye over last weekend. Waylon says it’s one of his favorite things I’ve ever made (!), and I have to say, it was pretty, pretty good. Our judgment was probably influence though, just a little bit, by eating outside on the deck, with the view of the water, on a beautiful warm night. I’m sure you know how those things go—I think I’m especially susceptible to my surrounding environment when I have meals.
But what also made this especially good was how it seemed to fit so well with that night. This salad, with the small yet delicious exception of toasted pita pieces, is literally a bunch of chopped vegetables and herbs thrown together with a simple vinaigrette. Which yes, sounds like almost every other salad in the world. But somehow this one really feels different. (And this is coming from someone who eats salads as a meal at least a few times a week. Not that you’d be able to tell from the content of this blog.) Maybe it has something to do with the vibrancy of the herbs, or the contrast of the fresh lettuces and vegetables. All I know is I’ve never tasted anything that tasted so fresh. Bon Appetit featured it as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Food World,” and calls it the “original chopped salad.” It’s the original, and I’m pretty sure nothing has ever come along that can parallel it.
One Year Ago: Rosemary Focaccia
I understand that there is a lot of flexibility in terms of what composes this salad. But, in my opinion, you cannot substitute or go without the sumac, pita bread, parsley, and mint. You can find sumac in spice stores and middle eastern markets. Also, like most salads, this one should be served immediately to prevent any wilting of the herbs and lettuce and to preserve the texture of the pita.
4 teaspoons ground sumac, soaked in 4 teaspoons warm water for 15 minutes
juice of one lemon, at least three tablespoons
2 small garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 8-inch-diameter pita breads, toasted until golden brown
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
6 scallions (green parts only), thinly sliced
1 small head romaine lettuce, trimmed, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch strips
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems removed
1 cup fresh mint, stems removed
ground sumac, for garnish
First, prepare the dressing. Combine the sumac in the water it soaked in, lemon juice, minced garlic, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Gradually add the oil in a small stream, whisking constantly, until it’s all blended and emulsified. Season with few good pinches of salt, and taste for salt, lemon, and vinegar.
Using your hands, roughly break up the toasted pita bread to be in bite-sized pieces. Place the pieces in a medium bowl and drizzle the 1/4 cup of olive oil over and toss to coat. Season the pita well with a good pinch or two of kosher salt. In a separate large bowl (largest one you can get your hands on), mix
Place pita pieces in a medium bowl; pour oil over and toss to coat. Season pita to taste with salt.
Mix tomatoes and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add 3/4 of dressing; toss to coat, adding more dressing by tablespoonfuls as needed. Season with salt. Add pita; toss once. Sprinkle sumac over, if desired.