It’s hard to avoid at least a little overindulgence at Christmas and as the festivities die down, I can’t help but crave for something fresh and healthy. Thus, I decided to make a fattoush at lunchtime today. I’ve made a variation of this Syrian/Lebanese bread salad from Moro East many times with aubergine and pomegranate (click here) and it’s become a family favourite for parties. Recently, however, I had a wonderful version of fattoush at Yalla Yalla – a Lebanese restaurant in London – that was very different and I made one more like that for a family get-together just before Christmas.
Traditionally, fattoush is a salad that’s made to use up stale bread and the vegetable content varies according to the season. The Arabic word fattoush (or fattush) refers to the breaking or crumbling of bread. For this salad pitta bread is normally used but any will do. It’s toasted and broken into the salad. As my son so accurately described it recently when talking about this dish, the bread pieces are a bit like Middle Eastern croutons! I was interested to find that the Yalla Yalla version didn’t have a lot of bread in it and I think you certainly don’t want too much – although of course for the hungry, when this was first traditionally made, the bread was a welcome and filling addition that could make a few ingredients go far. Cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce and radishes are common ingredients, and flat-leaf parsley and fresh mint leaves are always added. Sumac, a wonderful east Mediterranean spice, deep rust-red in colour and tasting a little of lemon adds a traditional slightly bitter note and is always added to a fattoush.
I had all the ingredients in my fridge but also found half of a large pomegranate that was left over from a big family meal I cooked last weekend. I decided to add this – just as I do in the Moro recipe – for pomegranate seeds are often added to fattoush, but it’s certainly optional.
1 little gem lettuce
4 spring onions
1 stick of celery
½ small cucumber
1 sweet red pepper
fresh mint leaves
1 small pomegranate (optional)
1 pitta bread
1 small clove garlic
salt & freshly ground black pepper
Chop all the salad ingredients (except the pitta) and put in a large bowl. Remove the seeds from half the pomegranate and add to the vegetables; squeeze the juice from the other half into a small bowl. Add about an equal amount of olive oil to the pomegranate juice. Crush the garlic clove with a teaspoon of salt and add to the dressing with some pepper and a good sprinkling of sumac. (If you’re not using a pomegranate, make a dressing with olive oil and apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. In this case, you will need more oil to vinegar – about three times as much, but taste to make sure it’s right for you.)
Toast 1 piece of pitta lightly then cut open into a pocket and separate the two sides of bread. Toast again until nicely browned and then brush on some olive oil. Break the bread into smallish pieces straight into the bowl of vegetables. Whisk the dressing ingredients well together and then add to the salad.
Mix well together, very gently – with your hands works best – and then transfer to a serving dish.
This made plenty for 3-4 people. I ate it on its own as a light lunch but you could serve it as part of a Middle Eastern meal and it’s a good accompaniment to grilled lamb or chicken. The great thing about this kind of recipe is that you can just use ingredients you have to hand and maybe come up with your own favourite mix. It certainly makes a wonderfully fresh antidote to the rich Christmas food most of us have been eating over the last few days!