Keeping Cool in the Sun


As summer takes its full stride so does the humidity, especially this year.  When it’s sweltering, stiflingly so, something cool, crisp and fresh is the perfect antidote.  Yes, a salad is just what’s needed to put the mugginess on ice.

Naturally, people living at the desert’s edge have learned a thing or two about counteracting the oppressive heat. Specifically, today’s entry offers Fattoush  Salad, Lebanon’s refreshing attempt to stay cool even when stepping outside feels like opening the oven door after cooking a roast.

Despite its Near Eastern origins, Fattoush Salad’s bracing freshness is no mirage.  In addition to the salad’s customary ingredients – crisp lettuce, bright tomatoes and cool cucumbers – fattoush calls on other more unexpected means to lower the temperature.  Among them are fresh mint leaves and purslane, a succulent herb that sets each bite awash in a sea of emerald coolness.

In this case, the Terrified Amateur’s personal culinary garden supplied the mint and purslane; the advantage of knowing months ahead of time what recipes are in store, and planning accordingly.  Here’s a picture of the purslane just before it fulfilled its destiny:

Purslane

Another unique twist is the pita bread than adorns the salad.  The pita recipe comes from the New York Times, and is the same that accompanied last December’s souvlaki entry.  In this case the pita is cut into bite-sized pieces, soaked in olive oil and lightly sprinkled with sea salt.  Ironically enough, soaking the bread in oil keeps it from absorbing the salad’s moisture, thus preserving its interesting textural contrast.  It is, effectively, a chewy Near Eastern crouton.

The fattoush directions were featured on the Epicurious website.   Although the recipe was spotted this past winter, it didn’t make its way into the rotation until late July, when the sauna is set to maximum.  Fortunately for us, fattoush brings with it wintery relief.   Relax and let the coolness wash over you.

*****

Fattoush Salad

For the Dressing:

  • 4 teaspoon ground sumac (*1), soaked in 4 teaspoons warm water for 15 minutes
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (*2)
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mint
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt

For the Salad:

  • pita breads, toasted until golden-brown and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • 3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 pound cucumbers, sliced thinly crosswise
  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced (*3)
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 2 cups loosely-packed flat parsley leaves
  • 2 cups purslane leaves (*4)
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves

For the dressing, combine all the ingredients but the oil and salt.  Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly until well-blended.   Season to taste with salt and set aside.

For the salad, place the pita pieces in a  medium bowl and coat with the 1/4-cup of olive oil.  Season to taste with salt.

Mix all the vegetables in a large bowl and add 3/4 of the dressing.  Toss to coat.  Add more dressing gradually as needed.  Add the pita and toss once.

NOTES:

1 – You can find sumac in a well-stocked grocery store or in a Near Eastern market, if there’s one close by.  Of course, there’s always Amazon.  If you can’t find sumac, try a similar quantity of dried oregano sprinkled with lemon juice.

2 – Pomegranate molasses will be found in the same place you obtained the sumac.  If none is available, try a similar quantity of boysenberry or even maple syrup with a drop or two of lemon juice.

3 – I also added a leek, sliced very thinly.  It produced a slightly different taste profile and it was visually interesting.

4 – If you don’t grow your own purslane, substitute a few more romaine leaves, chopped.  It won’t be quite the same, but at least you’ll be in the neighborhood.

 

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