9.26.2012

The last tomatoes of summer: fattoush, a Lebanese tomato and bread salad


I reluctantly say goodbye to tomatoes. But isn’t that what makes seasonal eating brilliant? No sooner do you leave tomatoes, or peaches, or blueberries behind than something arises to take its place? (Well, talk to me in January and I might not wax so poetic.) The squash can wait a week or two, because for now, I’m grabbing tomatoes by the boxful and making this salad, along with a few other things.

For the last few days I have been roasting tomatoes and laboriously passing them through a food mill. The payoff is enough tomato sauce in the freezer to last through those dark winter evenings when I need a bit of comfort and cheer. My inspiration came from Simona, a talented writer who shares her thoughts about food and recipes for many of her native Italian dishes on her blog Briciole. I took a page out of Simona’s book and bought a box of tomatoes from a local farm. Once they were transformed into sauce, I made her uovo col pomodoro for a solitary supper. I can tell you, I will be eating Simona’s favorite comfort dish often in the cool weather.

Before it turns cold and the tomatoes run out, I am making this Lebanese salad. Fattoush, much like the Italian panzanella, makes use of leftover bread, but in this case, pita bread. First you paint the bread with olive oil, toast it in the oven, and then break it into pieces so it will sop up all of the juices from the tomatoes and the sharp lemon dressing in the salad. Don’t balk at the amount of lemon in the dressing—it really is what makes this salad special.

Purslane










Traditionally, fattoush is made with a sprinkling of sumac—a very tart seasoning that you can find in Middle Eastern grocery stores or from Formaggio Kitchen by mail order. Another hallmark is the use of purslane as one of the greens. Purslane is a succulent, and we might call it a weed, but it is eaten regularly in the Mediterranean. You can make a very good salad without those two ingredients, so don’t delay while you hunt them down; make it now. Whether you use purslane or sumac, taste as you add them. They will make you suck in your cheeks, no doubt about it; you just need to find a balance. If you can locate small Armenian cucumbers (which do not need peeling or seeding) in the farmers’ market or in a Middle Eastern grocery store, by all means, use them.

Fattoush
Serves 6

DRESSING
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 small clove garlic, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
1. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes to mellow the garlic. Gradually whisk in the oil.

SALAD
2 (7-inch) loaves of pita bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cucumber, sliced (or 2 small Armenian cucumbers)
4 radishes, thinly sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 small bunch arugula, purslane or other green, torn into bite-sized pieces to make 4 cups
1 cup fresh parsley leaves, stems removed
1 cup torn fresh mint leaves, stems removed
Sumac, to taste, if you like

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Have on hand a rimmed baking sheet.

2. With scissors, cut along the outside of the pita rounds to separate them into 4 circles. Brush both sides with the olive oil, and set them on the baking sheet. Bake for 12 to15 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Cool, and break into bite-size pieces.

3. Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, and radishes in a salad bowl and sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper. Add the scallions, arugula, parsley, and mint. Toss together.

4. Just before serving, add the pita bread to the bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if you like. Sally Pasley Vargas


p.s. The recipe for this salad was published in the Boston Globe today.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Sally. I am glad our conversation about tomatoes prompted you to preserve some. Come January, you'll have an effective weapon against winter blues. And I am so glad you liked uovo col pomodoro :) I love the photos of purslane: I like adding it to soups, but have never had it in salads. We are also consuming tomatoes in every possible way as long as they are available at the market. Panzanella is another dish that featured prominently in my childhood, as my father is a big fan of it. Your fattoush has "summer" written large over it: so colorful and flavorful. And you reminded me that I have sumac in my spice cabinet and have yet to use it.

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  2. Fattoush--don't we love it! But I wish you didn't associate it with the end of summer. Summer's NOT ending. The salad looks and sounds great, especially in this year of great tomatoes, but now you've piqued my curiosity about uovo col pomodoro... Regarding the recipe, I've never much cooked with sumac, although as a kid in rural Michigan we sometimes drank a kind of lemonade made from the sumac "cones." Another thing I've got to try. Your photos are always lovely, but the last is a real keeper. Ken

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  3. Fattoush is one of my favorite salads! Your pictures are beautiful, the recipe looks great too.

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    1. Thanks Julia, I hope you do try it!

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