Are you a fan of the panzanella salad? Caesar salad? Any salad with croutons on top?
If so, you need to try the fattoush (pronounced fah-TOOSH). Like the frugal Italians who hate to waste bread, Arab cooks have been perfecting the bread-stretching salad for centuries.
If you’ve got bread, chances are you have the occasional bit left over. Thrift has motivated cooks since time immemorial to invent classics like bread-thickened soups and bread pudding. So it makes sense that every bread-loving culture would add bits of bread to salads. In the Levant, the daily bread is pita, and the daily salad is fattoush. Just about every meal includes some version of this salad, whether at home or in a restaurant.
A classic fattoush includes toasted or fried pita-bread pieces tossed with cucumber, tomatoes, radishes, onions, parsley and mint. Lettuce is often included, though not always. The ingredients are cut or torn in large, bite-sized pieces. Of course, everybody makes it his or her own way, and adding peppers, olives, fresh oregano, or feta cheese is not out of character for the salad. Sometimes you’ll see it on menus with grilled steak over the top, but I’d rather go with chickpeas.
The food of the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean countries) is known for an assertive hit of refreshing acidity, balanced with the richness of olive oil and peppery herbs. Sumac is a treasured spice that adds zingy tartness. You can make a fine version of fattoush, with a lemony tart dressing, or seek out some sumac for authenticity. You can find sumac at food co-ops in the bulk spice section. It’s a dark red dried fruit, usually sold crushed, with an enigmatic tanginess. The color alone makes it a great spice to sprinkle over greens. Once you have some, you can use it to sprinkle over hummus, baba ghanoush or avocado toast.
I used romaine (now back in grocery stores) in my fattoush, because the lettuce needs to be able to stand up to some assertive companions. Punchy radishes, quartered so that you get a good crunch, are perfect for the season. As summer goes on, this will be a great recipe to show off your ripe, local tomatoes. Fresh mint and cucumbers make it a perfect meal for a hot day, and cool you off delightfully.
So next time you are snacking on hummus and pita, save a few pitas to toast for this refreshing salad. You’ll be glad you did.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.