CRAVE: Middle East has bright solution for stale pita bread
Tuscany’s solution for stale bread, panzanella, is just the start of salad solutions for stale bread. Throughout the Middle East — where fresh, thin flatbreads dry out even faster than foccacia — there’s a greener, crunchier cousin of panzanella: fattoush.
Fattoush is little more than the ubiquitous Arab salad that accompanies nearly every meal in the Middle East, a varying mix of cucumbers, radish, lettuce, tomatoes, scallions and fresh herbs. Yet two ingredients set fattoush apart — sumac and pita bread.
In this recipe from our book “Milk Street Tuesday Nights,” which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less, we make our pita extra crunchy so the salad ends up with different textures. We brush the rounds with oil and bake them until nicely browned. Sumac is like a dry citrus, with earthy, tart notes that brighten the salad without making the pita soggy.
Our addition of quick-pickled grapes is not a common fattoush ingredient, but we loved their sweet-tart flavor and succulent texture in a fattoush at chef Ana Sortun’s Oleana restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Both the pita and the grapes can be prepared a day in advance, but store the pita in an airtight container.
Pomegranate molasses, which is tangy and lightly fruity, is optional but gives the fattoush complexity and a distinct Middle Eastern character.
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 pound seedless red grapes, halved
1/4 cup cider vinegar
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, finely grated
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Two 8-inch pita bread rounds, each split into 2 rounds
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (optional)
2 teaspoons ground sumac
1 English cucumber, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced
6- to 7-ounce romaine heart, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Heat the oven to 400ºF with a rack in the middle position.
In a medium bowl, stir together the grapes, vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and refrigerate.
In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup of oil, the garlic, cumin and pepper flakes.
Arrange the pita rounds rough side up on a rimmed baking sheet, then brush each with the flavored oil, using all 6 tablespoons. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until browned and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, break into bite-size pieces.
Drain the grapes, reserving the pickling liquid. In a large bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup of oil, the yogurt, dill, molasses and sumac, if using, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add the reserved pickling liquid and whisk well. Add the cucumber, romaine, mint, pickled grapes and pita pieces. Toss until evenly coated.