Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fattoush Salad

Greek salad? no, it's my version of Fattoush. 

Photo: Fattoush salad with a dollop of hummus and extra pita chips
We typically eat a lot of salads whenever we're in town during late summer and autumn months, reveling in the luscious flavors of seasonal, local tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs. Meal after meal we enjoy Greek salad, panzanella (bread salad), caprese salad, roasted pepper salad... oh, the list goes on!  But lately I can't get enough of a Middle Eastern salad, fattoush. This dish, resembling a loaded Greek salad with seasoned and toasted pita chunks, features the sour tang of a sumac-based seasoning za'atar. If you haven't encountered za'atar or sumac before, you owe yourself a taste sampling.

Sumac is the main ingredient in the spice blend zatar, or za'atar. (link) As you can see from the labels, I buy my sumac from Penzeys Spices. They have an online store and a widespread network of brick-and-mortar retail stores. Penzey's Seattle store has been open for over a year, but it seems easier for me to order online and not have to battle downtown traffic and the related parking challenge. Following many months afloat each year I tend to postpone the re-entry experience of busy city traffic for as long as possible. Steep hills, one-way streets, traffic cameras, crowds of pedestrians that dart about everywhere outside of crosswalks - stop! back to the food.

I no longer buy the za'atar separately but order larger quantities of ground sumac and mix up my own blend. There are any number of recipes available online, try a Google search and check it out. It's fun to tweak each new batch a little, adjusting ingredients or proportions to change up the flavor. How do you use this blend? RL loves za'atar-seasoned pita chips to use as handy hummus scoops. 

Za'atar also works well as a dry rub, adding its distinctive sour tang to roasted chicken or lamb. Use it to flavor lamburgers or meatloaf, even roasted vegetables. Just don't forget to try za'atar in this delicious fattoush salad.


For the Salad:
1 head romaine, cut or torn into bite-sized strips
red onion, sliced into thin half-moons (&/or green onion rings)
ripe tomatoes of any size, beefsteak to grape tomatoes, chunked
seedless cucumber, bite-sized chunks
fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, torn
mint, cilantro, basil, oregano leaves (optional)
pita bread pieces, sprinkled with za'atar, toasted, 
Kalamata olives, seeded and halved (topping)
Feta cheese in chunks or crumbles (topping)

For the Dressing:
Use a 3:1 ratio of olive oil and red wine vinegar (or vinegar and lemon juice blend). 
Add salt, freshly ground pepper and za'atar to taste (start with a scant teaspoon of za'atar and adjust as desired). 

To Prepare:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Assembling on a baking sheet, sprinkle the rough sides of split pita breads lightly with za'atar; bake until dry but not browned, 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool and cut or break apart into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Use a small bowl and whisk together the dressing ingredients, adjusting seasonings to taste.
  3. Use a large salad bowl or platter to combine the salad vegetables and fresh herbs. Add a small amount of the dressing and toss to coat. Add the romaine and a bit more dressing and toss to coat lightly. Just before serving add the pita pieces and more dressing, as rquired. You don't want soggy bread, but the pita should carry some vinaigrette.
  4. Top with the kalamata olives and feta cheese, sprinkle a little more za'atar over all and enjoy.

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