Give a Yankee some semi-stale bread and bread pudding results. Give it to cooks of Mediterranean origin and they add tomatoes, olive oil, cucumbers, scallions, lemon juice or vinegar, basil or mint plus the spice of regional choice to create a bread salad.
We Yankees just don’t seem to have a bread salad tradition. What a good idea to borrow.
My neighbor Cynthia Hanson introduced me to Fattoush salad which calls for Middle Eastern flatbreads like lavash and pita (both easily found in deli sections of most big grocery stores) lightly toasted in the oven with tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, mint and parsley and served with crumbled feta on top. The oil and lemon juice dressing is seasoned with sumac, which are distinctively flavored ground red berries found online or in Middle Eastern markets.
This salad reminds me of panzanella, the Italian bread salad made with chunks of crusty loaves, tomatoes, and onions and flavored with basil, dressed with oil and vinegar which I like very much. At any event, these bready salads sop up tomato juice beautifully, a job that All-American white bunny bread would fail miserably at.
Fattoush calls for Persian cucumbers, easily found in most produce sections. I grow a variety called Super Zagross, which has very thin, spineless skin, similar to the long English cucumbers. They need no peeling. I don’t bother to remove the small tender seeds. Zagross has become my favorite salad cuke, and I save the others for pickling. If you don’t feel like messing with specialty cucumbers, use the English ones, or peel any old slicer and full steam ahead. As Julia Child used to warble, “You are alone in the kitchen.”
Sumac might be hard to find and lacking it, add lemon pepper, or just lemon juice to the dressing. Sumac is an ingredient in Zatar, a blend of sumac with other herbs and sesame which you might have acquired along with a kabob recipe. You’ll want a little sour note. If you strike out, what the heck, you’ll end up with something like panzanella with cucumbers.
A meaty tomato rather than a super juicy one works better. Otherwise, consider scooping out some of the seeds. That way the salad won’t be soupy.
I just like the idea of a cold, one-bowl dish, with enough bread to be satisfying while not heavy. There’s lots of chopping but no time over a hot stove so it’s easy on the cook. You can always fire up the grill for chicken or lamb kabobs. The Fattoush is the only side dish you need.
2 lavash flatbread or pita breads
¼ cup olive oil
3 small Persian cucumbers or 1 long English cuke
4 medium tomatoes
1 head Romaine lettuce
2 sprigs mint
3 sprigs of parsley
Feta cheese, optional
2 teaspoons of sumac powder, or substitute lemon pepper
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper
Heat an oven to 375 degrees. Brush the olive oil on the bread and lay on a baking sheet. If using pita, cut in half then open by slicing the perimeter. Bake for about 10 minutes, until golden and crisp.
Break the toasted bread up into a large bowl.
Chop the cucumbers fairly small and add them to the bowl.
Remove the seeds if necessary from the tomatoes and cut them into small chunks; add to the bowl.
Shred the Romaine lettuce and add.
Finely chop the scallions, mint and parsley and add to the bowl.
Put all the dressing ingredients into a jar and shake well until completely blended.
Dribble the dressing around the salad and toss with tongs or your hands until everything is mixed together and the dressing is distributed over the ingredients.
Serve garnished with crumbled feta, if desired.