I love middle eastern food and one of my very favourite dishes is fattoush – hence the third version on the blog! The first was Moro‘s Syrian version with aubergines and pomegranates, which has been a long-time family favourite (click here) and then I tried to recreate the one I’ve eaten at the fabulous Yalla Yalla (click here). Whenever I go to Yalla Yalla I have to order fattoush. Today, I turned to Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and thought, with its ‘creamy’ dressing, it was much like the Yalla Yalla one and I’d try it. I’ve called this post ‘Ottolenghi Style’ as I strayed a little from his recipe but it is essentially ‘his’.
Fattoush is not a specific recipe. It’s an Arab dish found in the Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and other middle eastern countries. In her book The Middle Eastern Kitchen, Ghillie Basan describes it as a traditional peasant dish that came originally from Syria and tells us that the word fattush is an Arabic word describing the breaking of bread. It’s basically a dish to use up stale bread (so the bread is pretty much the one essential ingredient!) mixed with salad vegetables and herbs in season. It commonly contains tomatoes, cucumber and radishes; sometimes lettuce is added (as they do in Yalla Yalla); onion is common – Ottolenghi uses mild spring onions and some garlic; herbs such as mint and parsley are used (purslane with its lemony flavour is common in the Middle East but not so easily come by here); and sumac is nearly always said to be a necessary ingredient. The bread is traditionally flatbread – so pitta is often used. It’s usually toasted. Ottolenghi doesn’t toast his – but I did. That was partly because my bread wasn’t stale but I also thought I’d prefer it toasted for a more crunchy texture.
The salad was my contribution to a family meal (and the shopping!). After the excitement of the first days of Christmas, there was a gap of normality (I even did quite a bit of work!), but then here we were at the 11th Day, back to Christmas with family getting together – nine of us in total. My son did most of the cooking, barbecuing chicken that had been marinated in olive oil and lemon juice and herbs; he made Moro’s kofte too. We ate at his house so I had to transport the salad by car. Thus I put it all together in a big bowl and kept the dressing and other liquids separate until we were almost ready to eat; I didn’t want the bread and vegetables to get soggy.
Fattoush – Ottolenghi Style
- 170ml whole milk
- 170g Greek yoghurt
- 1 heaped teaspoon dried mint
- 1 heaped teaspoon sumac, plus more for garnish
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- a good grating of black pepper
- flatbreads weighing about 200-250g
- a little olive oil to brush flatbread
- 350g tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 2 small ridge cucumbers, peeled and chopped
- 4 spring onions, peeled and sliced
- 25g flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- 15g fresh mint, roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons cider or white wine vinegar
Make the yoghurt dressing first. Ottolenghi says at least three hours in advance for the yoghurt and milk to ferment. Because I wanted to make it easy for me to transport it later, I also added the dried mint, sumac, garlic, salt and pepper to the yoghurt at this stage too – though Ottolenghi adds them separately straight on to the vegetables at the end. But I felt it gave the yoghurt time to take up the flavours as well as being convenient for the transportation. In the end there was far too much dressing – if I’d put it all in it would have drowned the salad, so another time I’d probably do about 50ml/50g of each.
I do sometimes make my own flatbread, which is fun to do, but I have to confess to usually taking the easy route with fattoush of using bought pitta. However, I saw some small Italian flatbreads in Waitrose and decided to use those instead. It was a great find as they worked really well – better than pitta – and tasted delicious with a lovely lighter texture. Brush them with a little olive oil and put into a 180C/160 Fan/Gas 4 oven for about 15 minutes. They’ll start to puff up slightly. Remove and allow to cool on a cooling rack.
Now prepare the vegetables. Ottolenghi dices his quite small (1.5cm) but I took a more Jamie Oliver rough-and-ready approach. I like the way Jamie cuts tomatoes not in a regular way but on the cross a bit. The cucumber I peeled and then did cut them into fairly even pieces. Put the vegetables straight into your serving dish as you go.
Top and tail the radishes and slice fairly thinly. Top and tail the spring onions, peel off the rougher outside skin if necessary, and slice thinly. I added 4 although Ottolenghi used only 2.
Now add the parsley and mint, roughly chopped. Stir gently to mix.
Break the cooled bread into the bowl.
At this stage, I just covered my bowl with cling film ready to take to my son’s, but of course you could otherwise just carry on if serving straight away. But don’t prepare in advance and put the final liquids on too early or it will ruin your salad. You don’t want to do that part until ready to serve – no more than 10 minutes in advance.
We began our family meal with glasses of fizz and a selection of meze. Time for another confession – I didn’t make any of the meze. I’ve discovered jars of wonderful Odysea meze in Wholefoods and they’re great. I also bought kosher hummus in Waitrose – not because I’m Jewish but because it’s better and more authentic. I can – and do – make all these things. But sometimes an ‘event’ is more about enjoying the invited company and not the cooking. Although Jonathan did cook some fantastic main courses and there was my salad, of course …
I also bought some of Paul Bakery’s lovely baguettes and some macarons and a Gallete des Rois for dessert. It was close enough to 12th night to have our traditional annual galette and fun at a family gathering.
My son is an absolute star at the barbecue (well, he’s just a great cook all ways!). So we enjoyed fabulous chicken and kofte, a mix of roasted white and sweet potatoes – crispy on the outside and fluffy within, with za’atar sprinkled over them. He made a tahini and lemon dressing for the chicken.
And then – of course! – there was the fattoush. I’d dressed it at the last minute. I drizzled over the 3 Tbs lemon juice, 6 Tbs olive oil and 2 Tbs cider vinegar. Then I spooned over some of the yoghurt mix but – as said above – not nearly all of it, maybe a quarter. The final step is to gently fold it all together.
It was wonderful; really good. It made a great accompaniment to the barbecued meats but it’s the kind of dish that would be good on its own as a light salad meal. You could always add some feta or other cheese to make it more substantial … or some nuts? Fattoush is a moveable recipe … take the basics and do your own thing. How nice it is to be creative in the kitchen!