Fattoush Salad with Yogurt Tahini Sauce

{fattoush salad at Ciachhetti}

{fattoush salad at cicchetti, way back in june}

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
Olive oil
Sea salt

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.

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Summer Green Bean Salad with Cherry Tomatoes

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If I had to pick two favorite summer vegetables, they might be green beans and cherry tomatoes – so of course this salad is one of my very favorites. Not surprising, then, that when I saw the stalls at the farmers market overflowing with green beans this past weekend I had to stock up.  I’ve made this with green beans from the grocery store in the past and it’s still excellent, but there’s something about fresh produce from the market that really makes things taste like summer. photo 1

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Some of these beans look like they’ve seen better days, but I guess that’s just what beans look like when they come straight from the farm? Because they were delicious – both raw, as a snack while I spent hours trimming them (it was really only minutes, but for some reason that task is always a little daunting to me), and once they were cooked. Aside from the time it takes to trim the beans, this salad takes next to no time to prepare. You do have to turn your stove on, which is a bummer when it’s 90 degrees out, but I think it’s worth it.  The good news is you don’t have to keep the stove on for long.  Deb says to parboil the beans for 4-5 minutes, but that resulted in a bean that was a little too cooked for my taste.  They weren’t overdone, but I prefer them crunchier so would suggest blanching for only 2-3 minutes, then cooling in an ice water bath (or just running them under cold water and throwing some ice cubes into the strainer with the beans, if you don’t want to dirty another bow).  If you prefer a less-crunchy green bean, however, cook them for a few minutes longer. 

Slice your tomatoes in half and toss with the vinaigrette.  Add the beans just before serving. Fresh and healthy, simple and delicious, the perfect side for any summer picnic or barbecue – my favorite kind of summer salad!  

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One year ago: Zucchini and Ricotta Galette 

Summer Green Bean Salad, from Smitten Kitchen (yellow bean version here)

1 lb. green beans (or mix of green and yellow)
1 lb. cherry tomatoes
1 large shallot
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or more to taste, I used more)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (or less to taste, I used less)
Salt and pepper to taste
Basil and/or other herbs, optional

For the veggies:

Rinse the beans, trim them (Deb calls this “top and tail,” I just think of it as cutting off the stringy parts), and chop them into large pieces. Parboil or blanch the beans in boiling salted water until just tender (4-5 minutes for parboil, 2-3 minutes for blanch, which I prefer as they stay a little crunchier). Drain immediately and cool, in ice water bath or otherwise.  Rinse the cherry tomatoes and cut them into halves.

For the vinaigrette: 

Peel and mince the shallot and toss with vinegar and salt and pepper. Whisk in the oil and adjust seasoning as needed.  Add tomatoes.  This can sit for awhile, but wait to add the beans until just before serving as the vinegar will discolor the beans a bit. Toss beans with tomatoes and vinaigrette.  Garnish with basil, parsley, or any herb of your choosing, if desired.

Enjoy outside in the sunshine! Happy summer!

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Cucumber Melon Salad with Feta, Basil, and Mint

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Happy summer, everyone! Sorry for the long hiatus from blogging – I wish I had a good excuse, but sadly I don’t. Life just gets so busy in the summer, who has time to cook? But, I’m back now and I have really good intentions of being more consistent. I have good intentions about a lot of things that don’t always come to fruition (gym, yoga, being punctual, curbing my binge-shopping for my unborn baby nephew – just to name a few), but I have a lot of recipes on my to-do list so I’m feeling good about my re-committment to the blog.

It’s finally summer here in the Pacific Northwest, where we can count on blue skies and sunshine only after the Fourth of July. And with temperatures in the 80s and 90s all week/weekend, what sounds better than a cold, crunchy, watermelon salad? I love getting my Martha Stewart Living each month, but I have this problem where I put magazines in a “to read” pile and then kind of forget about them (see above re: “good intentions”). But it’s my dad’s birthday today (Happy Birthday, Dad!!!) and watermelon is one of his all time favorite things, so when we celebrated earlier this week I dug through my pile and tried my best to copy the gorgeous picture on the cover.

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This salad really couldn’t be easier. Just cut up your melons and cucumber, throw in some herbs (you could use just mint or just basil – Martha only lists basil, and most watermelon salads only use mint – it was delicious with both but if you only have one or the other on hand it would be fine), toss with olive oil and lime juice, and you’re good to go.  The feta is totally discretionary – I liked it with, but it would be equally good without. You can prepare the salad ahead of time and then just toss with the dressing before serving. I like my watermelon as cold as possible, so keep the salad in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.

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Cucumber Melon Salad, adapted from Martha Stewart Living 

(note: Martha’s recipe is for one serving, mine serves a crowd)

One cantaloupe, cubed or balled
One small or one half large watermelon, cubed or balled
1-2 large or 3-4 small cucumbers, diced or sliced
Olive oil to taste
Lime juice to taste
Small handful mint leaves, torn or julienned
Small handful basil leaves, torn or julienned
1/4 cup – 1/2 cup crumbled feta, optional
Salt and pepper to taste, optional*

Toss together your melons and cucumber. I used the melon baller for my watermelon and diced the cantaloupe like Martha told me to, but you could cut both or ball both, whatever is easier. If you’re using regular cucumbers, I would cut them lengthwise into quarters and then dice them, but if you can find persian cucumbers (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, etc.) you can just slice them. I read once that in salads like this everything should be the same size (pieces of watermelon = pieces of cantaloupe = pieces of cucumber), so I used that as a rough guideline.

Just before serving, drizzle the cucumber and melons with olive oil and fresh lime juice and toss with mint and basil. I used only a tiny bit of olive oil and two limes (heavier on the lime, lighter on the oil) but you can adjust this to your liking. Garnish with additional mint and basil and sprinkle with feta, if using (I used it this time, but Martha doesn’t and I might not next time – it was good with it but would be just as good without). Chill in the fridge if time allows. 

*I didn’t use salt and pepper as I didn’t think the salad needed any – but if you weren’t using feta I think a little salt would be good.  

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Pasta and Co. Black Bean and Couscous Salad

Some weeks it can be really hard to come up with a recipe to blog about, especially in the summer when so much of what we eat is just grilled meat and veggies. For the most part I’ve been blogging about new recipes, but this is something I’ve been making since college (and possibly even before college) – an oldie but a goodie, if you will. Sometimes I forget how much I love it, but then it shows up at a family barbecue (in this case, little Oliver’s birthday a couple weeks ago) and I’m reminded that it really is my favorite summer dish. And then I make it for another event (in this case, for my soon-to-be-sister-in-law’s bachelorette weekend in Leavenworth this past weekend), and everyone gets so excited about it that I realize it’s not just my favorite, it’s kind of a universal favorite.

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Growing up, my aunts Barb and Nina made this salad for almost every family function. I was a picky child who didn’t like beans or onions (amongst a wide variety of other things), yet somehow I set those issues aside to gobble up what we all called “m&m salad” (due to the diced colored peppers that look like m&ms). For a long time I thought we had invented that clever name, but it turns out that’s what Pasta and Co. (where we first found the salad, and then the recipe) calls it.  The cookbook that it comes from is sadly out of print, but luckily I had the foresight to steal my mom’s copy, so I can share it with you all today.

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Although the actual recipe has you start with dried beans, I just dump in a (rinsed and drained) can as a time saver – although someday I’ll try it the proper way. Since couscous is the easiest thing in the world to make, ever, the only time committment this salad requires is the time to chop up the peppers, along with a few scallions and a handful of parsley. Whisk up the dressing and you’re all set.

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Since I was making this for a group of people I didn’t know, I followed the actual recipe – but in the past I’ve made it with quinoa instead of couscous and found it to be equally delicious.

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I was in charge of Saturday’s lunch for the bachelorette party, so on Friday morning I packaged up my couscous, threw in some fun treats for a cheese and charcuterie platter, and I was all ready for a picnic – just call me Ina Garten! You don’t even need a cooler if you’re packing it up for a long car ride, as it’s supposed to be served room temperature (just ask my aunt, who once packed a giant tupperware in her suitcase and checked it through to Hawaii – true story.  We all thought she was nuts until we were enjoying couscous all week).

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For the beans:
1 can black beans (see note, below)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground or cracked pepper
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, peeled and put through a press

For the couscous:
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp sherry wine vinegar
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 clove garlic, peeled and put through a press
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups vegetable or defatted chicken stock
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups uncooked couscous (package will probably say “instant” or “quick cooking”)

For the veggies:
2/3 cup (about half of one small) red bell pepper, diced
2/3 cup (about half of one small) green bell pepper, diced
2/3 cup (about half of one small) yellow bell pepper, diced
3/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup sliced green onions (sliced 1/8″ thick on the diagonal)

To assemble:

1.  Prepare couscous according to package directions, or using stock and olive oil.

2. Drain and rinse beans, and toss with oil, vinegar, salt, cumin, pepper, Worcestershire, and garlic.

3. Whisk together all couscous dressing ingredients (oil, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper) and pour over couscous.

4. Add chopped veggies and beans to couscous.  Chill. It’s delicious right away, but always better the next day.

NOTE: the original recipe calls for you to soak your beans, which is a step I skip. When you prepare the salad using the full bean dressing  and the full couscous dressing, it can be pretty heavy (and delicious – if you want it to taste the way it tastes when you buy it at the store, do it this way). To lighten it up, however, I usually skip the bean dressing, since it’s almost identical to the couscous dressing – I just make sure to add a little Worcestershire to the couscous.  If it seems dry once everything is mixed together, you can always add a little extra oil and vinegar.  I sincerely hope that everyone tries this, and figures out how they like it best.

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