Hello, friends! It’s been awhile! I’ve pretty much taken the entire summer off from blogging, and now all of the sudden it’s the last day of August and I haven’t made any of the yummy recipes I had planned to post. Summer pasta bakes, homemade goat cheese, corn cakes, ice cream, as many berry and peach desserts as possible, basically everything Deb has posted over the past few months (and she’s done it with a newborn!) – I’m pretty mad at myself. I have so many excuses: camera phone issues (thrice-shattered screen(s) made it hard to take pictures), actual camera issues (memory card full), computer issues (storage full so I can’t upload photos currently on camera, thus the full memory card), desire to spend free time at the beach and/or with my adorable niece and nephew rather than in the kitchen or trying to fix phone/camera/computer issues.
But I finally went to the Apple store last week (fourth trip in five weeks) and an adorable young guy at the genius bar fixed my computer for me. For free! It was so amazing. I completely expected him to tell me I needed to buy a new laptop, or that it would cost $800 to open mine up to tell me what was wrong, but instead he just helped me empty my trash and my little MacBook is good as new (I realize that doesn’t speak very highly of my technology skills!). My mom told me once that when I was born she wanted to name me after her anesthesiologist – that’s how I felt about this guy at the genius bar, except I’m not expecting a baby and I never even learned his name. But if I was, and I had, that’s how I would have felt, because that’s how excited I was/am to have my computer back. Whoop!
But I digress. Back in June, pre-technology meltdown, I went to dinner at Cicchetti for a girlfriend’s birthday and fell in love with their fattoush salad. So much so that I went back to Cichhetti the following weekend with the sole purpose of ordering the salad again, so that I could better analyze it for a future blog post. Two weeks after that, I actually made it. It was delicious. I even managed to take pictures somehow. And then I went to the beach for the Fourth of July with the two cutest babies on the planet, took approximately 10,000 photos of them playing in the ocean, and crashed my computer. A couple days later I dropped my phone on a cement floor and shattered the screen, which brings me to my above list of excuses.
But better late than never, right? As much as I would love to close out August with a peach dessert (ideally this one), I can’t think about another blog post until I’ve shared this salad. It really is the perfect summer salad (perfect summer meal, even): full of crisp and juicy vegetables, fresh herbs, crunchy and salty pita chips, and tons of delicious middle-eastern flavors. In my attempt to recreate the Cicchetti version, I started with the ingredients they list on their menu: cucumber, red onion, crispy flatbread (aka deep fried pita strips), bell pepper, fresh herbs, and tahini yogurt. A google search provided that traditional fattoush also includes romaine lettuce (which the restaurant version used) and diced tomatoes (which the restaurant version didn’t use but I wanted to). So figuring out the vegetables was easy; the trickier parts were the tahini sauce and the crispy flatbread. I played around with both until I found a version I was happy with, and I encourage everyone to do the same.
There are a ton of recipes for yogurt tahini sauce online, I started with one (it was so long ago that I can’t even remember which one) and then added more tahini, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. For the flatbread, I chopped my pitas into little strips and then fried them until crispy in olive oil, and salted them right when they came out of the hot oil. Delicious, but not necessarily the healthiest addition to a salad. I’ve made this a few times since, and I just toast the pitas in the toaster and then brush them with olive oil and sea salt and run them under the broiler until they’re extra crispy. So long as you aren’t doing a side by side taste test, that way is just as good. And if you want to save yourself the time and energy, you could just crumble a handful of store-bought pita chips over your salad and call it a day. But if you’re in the mood, cutting the pita into matchsticks and frying them is pretty fun, and makes for a really gorgeous salad.
I’m not a huge fan of raw onions, so if I were just making this for myself I might leave them out. But I understand that a lot of people like them, and they do add a good crunch. One of my favorite tricks (that I may have talked about before) is to soak a red onion in ice water after you slice or dice it. It needs probably at least 20 minutes of soaking time, but longer won’t hurt (I find the longer the better, personally), so I try to remember to chop my onion first and then get it in an ice water bath and stick it in the fridge, and then once I’m done with everything else the onion is usually ready to drain. It just makes the onion flavor a little milder, and also helps the onion stay cold and crisp.
When I had this salad at Cicchetti, it was served with the sauce spread on the plate and sprinkled with sumac, and then the salad and pita on top. So for purposes of my blog photo shoot that’s what I did; since then, I just toss all my veggies together, mix the sumac in with my yogurt tahini sauce and dollop it on top, and then serve it with a crunchy pita alongside (or a handful of pita chips crumbled on top). Whatever will make it easier for you to make this salad, I will encourage you to do, because it really was one of the best things I ate all summer.
For the Salad:
5-6 Persian cucumbers (or 1-2 regular cucumbers), chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 orange bell pepper, diced
1 red onion, finely diced (soaked and drained if desired, see above)
1 heart of romaine, finely sliced into thin strips
1 package cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
Fresh mint leaves, chopped, to taste
Small handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
For the Yogurt Tahini Sauce:
2 cups Greek yogurt
1/4 cup tahini
Juice of one lemon
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste
Ground sumac, to taste
For the Crispy Flatbread:
3-4 pieces flatbread or pita, cut into matchsticks
Make Salad: Toss chopped cucumbers, peppers, onion, tomatoes, lettuce, mint, and parsley together; set aside.
Make Sauce: Blend yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic in food processor until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread onto serving plates and then sprinkle sumac on top (or alternatively, plate salad first and then dollop the dressing on top).
Make Flatbread: Heat about 1/2″ of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add flatbread pieces and fry until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and spread on a paper towel-lined plate to dry; sprinkle generously with sea salt and let cool. [It took me about three batches to get all of mine done.] To bake instead of fry: toast pitas, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and broil until golden and toasty, about 2 minutes (watch carefully so that they don’t burn).
Assemble: Spread yogurt tahini sauce on plates and sprinkle with sumac. Top with a large handful of tossed veggies and sprinkle with crispy flatbread (and additional sumac, if desired). Enjoy, ideally on a sunny deck with a glass of wine.