Fattoush salad

Summer is waning. The autumnal equinox falls on September 22. Make salad while the sun shines. Here is an easy-going chopped vegetable and bread salad called fattoush. If you can find powdered sumac, a tart, deep-red, Middle-Eastern spice, dust it over the finished salad. Similarly if you can forage some purslane, put that in, too. Both add a refreshing, authentic sour note. Purslane is regarded as a weed here, and you may well have some in your vegetable garden, or lurking among the potted plants. It looks like a succulent, with small, fleshy, paddle-shaped leaves. (Don’t eat anything you can’t identify, however!) Even without these embellishments, fattoush is delicious, and a practical way to use leftover pita or flatbreads. And it’s amenable to tweaking. Some cooks, for instance, sweeten the dressing with pomegranate syrup. For a local twist, try a smidge of honey. Mint and parsley are traditional, but the addition of cilantro is wonderful, too. The broken bits of bread in this salad do a great job of sopping up the juices.

Fattoush salad
1 7-to-8-inch round of Pita bread (stale is just fine)
2 ripe medium-large tomatoes, about 9 oz., diced
½ (half) small cucumber, about 4oz., diced
½ small sweet bell pepper, diced
2-3 scallions, sliced thin
½ (half) clove garlic, crushed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ (half) cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
¼ (quarter) cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
handful of crisp lettuce leaves, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for crisping Pita
Juice of ½ lemon (1 Tbs.)
Fresh plain yoghurt  (optional)

Slice pita into three-quarter-inch wide strips. Peel each strip apart to make two, and arrange strips on a baking sheet. Brush both sides of bread with oil, and slide into a 325F oven until crisp and golden-brown. Meanwhile cut tomatoes, cucumber and pepper into half-inch or so dice. Crush garlic with ¼ teaspoon salt in the bottom of a bowl. Add vegetable dice and sliced scallions, squeeze over the juice of half a lemon, drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and season with more salt and fresh pepper to taste. Let flavors mingle and juices run into the dressing for 5-10 minutes. Just before serving, add fresh herbs and roughly chopped lettuce. Break pita crisps into rough squares and gently toss salad, until bread starts to absorb the flavorful dressing. Serve with a dollop of cooling plain yoghurt if you like.  For 2 as a main dish, and for up to 4 as a side dish.

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