Thursday, March 6, 2008
I have a difficult relationship with salad. I'm a fairly healthy person and pride myself on my sometimes herculean consumption of vegetables, but sometimes the thought of eating a salad seems like punishment. I suppose the difficulty is really an issue of texture.
Salads that are too lettuce-heavy vex me. Fattoush is a perfect salad for someone who needs varied texture in their bowl of raw veggies. They key ingredient is broken pieces of toasted pita, which serves as the Lebanese version of croutons, fried rice noodles or the ever tempting fried tortilla bowl. Using whole-wheat pita adds not only a crunchy, starchy contrast to the fresh ingredients, but also a nice amount of fiber. If, like most of the country, you're struggling to get to that goal of 25 g of fiber per day, tossing some toasted pita on your salad is pretty simple even for the laziest or most unskilled cook.
This salad is great in the summer when the veggies are picked fresh, but is also nice in the colder months alongside a hearty soup such as split pea, lentil or potato.
1 small head of green or red-leaf lettuce, shredded
1/4 small green cabbage, shredded
1 small red pepper, cut into 2-inch strips
1 small green pepper, cut into 2-inch strips
2 Roma or plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 4-5"-long cucumber, halved then sliced into semi-circles
1 large carrot, sliced into thin rounds
3 radishes, halved, then sliced
3 green onions (scallions) chopped finely
1 can of chickpeas, drained (or 1.5 c. of cooked from dry)
1 whole-wheat pita 6-8" in diameter
home-made salad dressing (see below)
1. Split open the pita and separate into two halves. Toast it until it's completely dry and brittle. For the novel pita-toasters out there, it's better to err on the side of caution and toast it on a lower heat to avoid burning.
2. Let the pita cool, break into bite-sized pieces, then toss with all the other ingredients and salad dressing. I'm not giving amounts of dressing here, because I don't pay attention to how much I use. I just add and toss, then add some more etc.
A brief word about salad dressing. I don't buy it. Seriously. No offense to people who buy salad dressing, but it's just not something I'll pay money for. I usually don't like it pre-made and it's ridiculously over-priced for what it is. So I just make it from scratch. It's not fancy, and it doesn't vary much, but it's cheap and I know exactly what's in it. I find that the absolute best dressing bottles are old rice-vinegar bottles. They have that little plastic thingy in the top of the neck that allows you to splash/shake the liquid instead of pouring it, and I just love that. If anyone knows the name of that plastic thingy, I'm dying to know.
This is not a 'foodie' salad dressing. There is no mention of 'truffles' nor is the oil from grape seeds, walnuts nor is it infused with anything. It calls for something that might instigate eye-rolls in the wine-and-tapas crowd: Mrs. Dash.
Yes. That's what I said.
Mrs. Dash: A festive bottle of dried vegetable and herb bits that makes for pretty freaking good salad dressing. Go ahead, roll your eyes all you want, but you're probably paying 6 bucks for a bottle of fancy over-priced oil and fructose that will prevent you from tasting your vegetables anyway.
BTW, seasoned rice vinegar (available in 'Asian' markets and big supermarkets) has the addition of salt and a little sugar (the seasoning) and is what is used at home to flavor sushi rice, so I never add additional salt to my dressing. This is another sloth/idiot-proof recipe.
Generic Salad Dressing
Extra-virgin olive oil
Seasoned rice vinegar
1 bottle that can be shaken without causing someone to loose an eye.
The proportions of ingredients in salad dressing are really to taste, so experiment. I usually fill my bottle with half oil, half vinegar, though I know some people like it a bit more vinegar-heavy. Then I just dump maybe 2-3 tablespoons of Mrs. Dash into the bottle, close it and shake. Pennies per serving. Roll your eyes at that.