If the history of this blog is any indication, I'm a huge fan of bread salads. My love is easily explained: bread adds heft to make a salad feel like a meal, and since i'm going to dunk a hunk of baguette in my leftover dressing anyway, ripping bread right into the salad is the best kind of shortcut.
Fattoush is a member of the bread salad family, an honored and much loved one at that. Its origins are Levantine, and in various Middle Eastern countries, it's a definitive staple. Instead of the crusty bread you often find in American or Italian bread salads, fattoush relies on the Middle Eastern staple, pita. Like other bread salads, the idea behind fattoush is to use stale bread -- but the salad is so addictive, I confess to finding myself at the bread basket, grabbing some perfectly unstale pita to toast for the purpose.
For some, fattoush is all about the pita. For others, it's about those beautiful persian cucumbers -- the skinny, seedless variety that have finally found their way to farmers' markets on the east coast. But if you ask me, especially in this season, fattoush begins and ends with excellent tomatoes.
I use a mix of big, voluptuous heirlooms and the small, bursting red and yellow cherries. This week, I got my hands on some baby heirlooms in red, yellow, and a beautiful greenish purple; in they went.
The dressing on fattoush varies widely; sometimes it's heavy on the lemon, almost to the point of masking the other flavors in the salad. Other times, it has such a low proportion of acid to oil, it brings to mind Julia Child's vinaigrette. My ideal is somewhere in between. I like some lemon -- just a bit -- tempered with pomegranate syrup, which adds sweetness. I also add sumac, a tangy spice that's traditionally in fattoush.
Whatever you do, make sure your tomatoes are top-notch. Their seeds and juice will commingle with the dressing, and the result is not to be missed. That's also why it's important to dress the fattoush at least 20 minutes before serving (I usually give it 30): the cucumbers, scallions, tomatoes and pita will soak up some of the dressing, and they'll also lend their juices to the mix, allowing the flavors to marry. Writing this, I just wish I had another bowl of the stuff.
While I'm a pretty straightforward gal when it comes to making fattoush, you can add any number of things to it: feta, olives, and even watermelon would tip it in the direction of Greek salad, and really, who complains about that?
Fattoush serves 6 as a first course
For the salad: 3 big heirloom tomatoes in different colors: I like one red, one purple cherokee, and one yellow 1 pint cherry tomatoes, most flavorful you can find - I favor yellow ones 3-4 persian cucumbers, halved lengthwise and sliced into chunks 3 scallions, bulb end removed, sliced 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced, optional 4 pieces good quality pita bread 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon sumac salt and pepper 1/4 cup mint, roughly chopped 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
For the dressing: juice of 1/2 lemon 3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried mint 1/2 teaspoon sumac 1/2 teaspoon salt freshly cracked pepper
Preheat the oven to 350. If pita is pocket-style, slice open. Put in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sumac. Bake pita 15-20 minutes, until crisped. Alternative: if it's too hot to turn on the oven, you can just slip the pita slices in the toaster and toast until crisped. Remove toasted pita from oven or toaster, and break into uneven bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
Set aside a bowl for making the dressing; as you slice tomatoes, you'll add the collected juices to the bowl. Rinse and dry large heirloom tomatoes delicately. Halve tomatoes, then slice each into 2-bite wedges, taking care to reserve the collected juice and transfer it into the dressing bowl. Halve cherry tomatoes. Transfer all tomatoes to large, shallow bowl or rimmed serving platter. Add cucumbers, red onions if using, scallions, and mint to salad bowl, and carefully incorporate without smushing tomatoes. (That's a technical term.) Add pita chips on top.
Make dressing: combine all ingredients except oil, and whisk to combine. Add oil in slow stream, whisking as you pour to emulsify dressing. Drizzle dressing over salad, and let sit for 20-30 minutes before serving, tossing every 10 minutes or so to meld flavors.