Late Winter Fattoush
It’s been a rough winter here in San Francisco. Go ahead, tell me to “check my privilege,” but there’s no convincing me that this never-ending torrential downpour, which has permanently drenched me to the core, doesn’t suck big time. Nevertheless, I’ve persisted - dripping and shivering - each week, to the farmers market, where I’ve been met with slim pickings of kale and Brussels sprouts week after week.
Now let it be known that I am brassicas’ number one cheerleader. But after a while, a girl starts to miss that crunch of fresh, waterlogged produce that bursts with flavor and tastes best raw. I’ll also be the first to admit that after an entire summer of heirloom tomatoes, avocado and snap peas, I’m ready for something with a little more heft.
This is all to say that right now, we’re in that sweet spot between winter and spring when produce variety is peaking. Citrus is sweet and juicy for a few more weeks, lettuces still reign, root vegetables are hanging out but not stealing the show, and succulent summery vegetables like cucumbers are peaking their way into things. For just a couple weeks, we get the best of both worlds. This salad tastes best right now, but can be twisted and turned throughout the seasons.
Fattoush is a Middle Eastern salad traditionally made with pita, cucumber and tomato. It’s sort of like the Mediterranean version of Panzanella – lots of toasty bread and a few fresh vegetables soaking together in savory harmony. This fattoush takes a different route – the za’atar pita chips take a backseat to crunchy and sweet produce like romaine hearts and cara cara oranges.
About those oranges – they’re the sweetest, most preciously pink, juicy citrus spheres on the planet, and they’re only here for a quick stint. Get them while you can and eat them with everything (salads, parfaits, cocktails…).
As I’ve learned since resolving to “eat more salad” in 2017, a good salad has lots of layers of texture and flavor. First and foremost – crunch factor is at an all time high here since the bowl is filled with snappy vegetables and crispy pita chips. We’ve also got complex flavors going on: sweet (cara cara), spicy (radish), aromatic (fennel, mint), funk (za’atar) and tang (sumac). Texture and taste play together to pique the senses with a little bit of everything.
This is a great main dish, especially if you toss in some quinoa or grilled chicken, but I served it alongside shakshouka (an Israeli egg and tomato dish) with mint iced tea on an sunny Sunday afternoon. As for that dreary San Francisco winter, things seem to be shaping up. Don’t worry, I’ll be “checking my privilege” all the way to the farmers market!
Ingredients (serves 4)
4 pieces fresh pita
½ red onion
1 head romaine lettuce
1 small fennel bulb, plus some fronds
2 Persian cucumbers
Handful small radishes
1 cara cara orange
1 tablespoon sumac
Flakey sea salt
Cut the red onion in half and slice thinly, following the lines on the outside and cutting inward toward the center.
Place onion in a small bowl with lemon juice. Toss to coat and set aside.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Cut the pita into 1-inch long rectangles. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, za’atar and salt. Toss to coat pita and add more oil if it still looks dry. Bake until crispy, but not rock solid – about 15 minutes.
Chop the romaine into 1-inch pieces, discarding any parts that are particularly leafy.
Thinly slice the fennel, cutting pole to pole.
Cut the radishes and cucumbers into 1/4 inch half moons.
Using a sharp knife, cut the skins and pith off of the orange. Try to not sacrifice too much of the meat, but cut enough of the skin off that the remaining outside is shiny and pith-free. Turn the orange on its side and slice it into ½ inch rounds. Cut those rounds into quarters.
Add all ingredients, plus a few fennel fronds, fresh mint, olive oil and sumac to a serving bowl. Toss to combine, adding more lemon, sumac and salt as needed.