Middle Eastern Fatoush Salad
Looking outside through the expanse of windows overlooking the Okanagan in the morning is always reflective. It’s foggy and overcast at the moment, but I suspect the fog will lift as the sun breaks through in a few hours. I don’t mind foggy days, there is a mystery and romance to the silvery tones and staying home seems ever more enticing. The fireplace is warming up the room and a cup of hot camomile tea is releasing it gentle aroma beside me. I have a stack of new cookbooks to go through, ranging from ethnic to vegetables to food writing and food travel. As I am rebuilding a cookbook library (you know why), I am discovering new books and get reacquainted old favourites. Ottolenghi books are among those I had to replace and looking through them is inspiring and whisk me to faraway places. Ever the traveler, I believe in travelling even when I am home. I was watching Ottolenghi host Anthony Bourdain in Jerusalem on an episode of Parts Unknown. They were having lunch outdoors, all vegetables, and the food looked so special that it made me want to cook through the book again.
As I was reading through Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s book Jerusalem I noticed this fatoush salad made with buttermilk based dressing. I was intrigued and decided to try it . Vegetable salad with torn grilled pita bread pieces is a staple in the middle east and comes in a few variations. I make it occasionally, with pita bread or with torn pieces of baguette, with a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar or a squeeze of lemon as the dressing.The buttermilk dressing was new to me and turned out to be beautiful with the salad and probably would be useful with other dishes as well. The salad turned out crisp and delicious as well as photo-worthy (a must for a blogger) so I offer my adaptation of Ottolenghi’s recipe here. He in turn attributes the recipe to Na’ama, Sami’s mother. This is the thing about recipes. Someone always made them before. This is a free form salad you can add to or subtract from and I am sure you will have a beautiful salad in any event.
The recipe calls for za’atar, a middle eastern spice blend that some may not be familiar with. It is made with dried za’atar leaves, sumac, sesame seeds and salt but there are many variations. It is sold at the markets piled up high or packed into sacks and is such a treat to bring back from vacation(I keep it in the freezer). It’s irreplaceable as a sprinkling on local flat bread and in many other dishes. You can find it in middle eastern stores or online. I have never made it myself (now on my to do list) but Heidi of the famed 101 cookbooks made it and you can find her recipe here.
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 garlic clove (grated if you like strong garlic flavour, crushed for less pronounced)
3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoon cider or white wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon za’atar or sumac with a little more for sprinkling over the salad
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.
Set aside and let the flavours combine until ready to use.
2 pita breads or French baguette torn into chunks
2-3 crisp romaine leaves, cut or broken into pieces
2 tomatoes, diced
3 small cucumbers, diced
2 radishes, sliced
2 green onions or a bunch of chives, chopped
1/2 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped if large, left whole if small
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, leaves only
Combine all dressing ingredients in a bowl, mix with a whisk and leave to rest until ready to use.
Chop the salad ingredients to roughly equal size pieces, not too big not too small, just right:) (3/4″)
Combine vegetables in a salad bowl and toss to mix.
Drizzle with some of the dressing (you will not need it all, save some for other dishes) and toss to combine.
You can let the salad sit for just a few minutes before serving.