With the holiday season coming up, Heather and I both thought it would be fun to find ways to “internationalize” our upcoming holiday meals with our friends and family. Not that we don’t love what you’d traditionally find around the Thanksgiving table (trust me, we do), but this seems like it will be a really fun challenge.
At least around us, one common (mis)conception about the holidays is that it’s a time where you can have a “free pass” to eat unhealthy in the name of eating great tasting food.
Besides the fact that this “free pass” doesn’t really exist, there doesn’t have to be this type of trade-off anyway. It’s always possible to have great tasting food that doesn’t compromise on any nutrition.
One great example of this is fattoush.
What is Fattoush?
Fattoush is a delicious and nutritious salad served in the Lebanese and other Arabic cuisines. Technically meaning “peasant salad,” fattoush is an incredibly simple combination of various vegetables, leafy greens, toasted pita bread croutons, and a sumac-heavy vinaigrette.
The beauty about fattoush is that it can be served versatilely, both as a featured dish for a larger dinner spread or as a mezze. In Lebanese and other Middle Eastern cuisines, it’s near mandatory to have some sort of food accompaniment with your drinks, and mezze is just that. It is a small plate of food, similar to what tapas are to Spanish cuisine, that you have as a snack… until you’ve had enough of them to constitute a full (delightful) meal.
In terms of mezzes, the fattoush is as traditional and commonplace as it gets. And for good reason.
About the Fattoush Recipe
The lovely thing about fattoush, aside from the elegance in its simplicity, is how flexible the dish can really be. There is no set way to creating a delicious fattoush salad, and any type of ingredients from chickpeas to olives can be added to “customize” the dish as you like.
But twist my arm, and I’ll tell you there are two real star ingredients you must have in any quality fattoush salad: the pita chip croutons and the sumac vinaigrette.
Traditionally, the croutons for fattoush are made from crunchy pita bread. We have tried fattoush made with other types of bread, but it’s just not the same as having flatbread style, extra crunchy, sumac and salt sprinkled croutons. Yum!
Some prefer to fry their pita chips in olive oil – including Taste of Beirut and their original recipe – while others prefer to bake them. We’re personally favorites of the latter option, mainly because it’s healthier, but that’s not to say that deep-fried pita crisps aren’t super savory and really delicious too.
And then there’s the sumac vinaigrette. Sumac is a spice prominently used in pretty much every Middle Eastern cuisine, including Persian (meaning you’ll see it in future posts as well). It’s derived from the berries of a flower indigenous to the region and to North Africa, and it carries a particular bright, lemony, almost tart flavor to it. On top of that, sumac has a very regal looking dark purple hue that can make any dish stand out, even on a food-filled Thanksgiving table.
In fattoush, there’s a very liberal helping of sumac to the dressing so that every vegetable and crouton carries some of this delightful lemony taste with every bite. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can even season your pita croutons with extra sumac as well. We certainly did.
Our Take on the Recipe
Considering how straightforward and quick fattoush is to make, we didn’t make too many changes from our original reference recipe. Again, more out of a preference for the healthier option, we opted instead to bake our pita croutons instead of deep fry them, and we substituted regular pita for whole wheat pita instead.
Instead of purslane, which we couldn’t find in the grocery stores around us, we opted instead to add upland cress for that stronger leafy taste. If you don’t have purslane available around you either, other perfectly good substitutes can be watercress or arugula as well. The key here is to get a slightly spicier leafy green to add to the fattoush.
That’s pretty much all there is to it! Fattoush is such a fun dish to make (and eat!) and would be a great, healthy accompaniment to any upcoming holiday table.
How would you prepare your croutons for fattoush? Share with a comment below and let us know!