Fatouche with Dill

Sunday, July 02, 2006
This salad has been on my mind for a while but I was unwilling to spring for the mint. I contemplated making the salad without, but many of the recipes I looked at had assertive herbs in them like cilantro as well as the mint so it seemed like an essential element would be missing. Then I found dollar-a-bundle dill at the city centre market last weekend and thought it could be used in place of mint.


Like most salads, what will make this one stand out is really good ingredients. You need really red, fresh and redolent tomatoes and crisp cucumber and lettuce - summer means no excuses for bad salads. Dice a tomato and about 10 cm of cucumber and tear half a small head of romaine with your hands. Remove most of the seeds and juicy parts from the tomato because you don't want the salad too wet - these can be your appetizer. Lettuce should be dry too - I dried mine with a towel after spinning it. Mince three generous tablespoons of dill (or mint, if available).


This took a couple of tries to get right - most recipes I saw called for enough lemon juice to make the salad downright sour. I microwaved a clove of mashed raw garlic to tame its harshness, and also microwaved a quarter teaspoon of cumin to release the flavours. Then mixed these with a half lemon's worth of juice, a few shakes of salt and pepper, and added two tablespoons of olive oil.


First, a crouton rant: Croutons should be freshly made for the purpose; the little break-your-teeth bricks from the box or bulk bin should never be used. Bread croutons, such as for Caesar salad, ideally should be like little pieces of toast - crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and still warm to contrast with the rest of the salad. Pita croutons should be fragrant and crisp.

The best pita bread I have found locally is also the least expensive, from Pita the Great. You get a package of six 100 g breads - fully double the size of most others - for a buck if you buy them at H&W Produce or at the nearby Pita the Great shop/restaurant. I have been known to devour a plain whole wheat pita for breakfast while returning from a grocery run - they are that good when fresh. To make the croutons (or really good pita chips), separate the pita breads into layers and brush with oil and salt. Can also use seasonings like oregano, thyme, and sesame seeds. Toast in a medium oven til just brown and break into pieces.


Toss chopped vegetables and a couple handfuls of croutons together and pour dressing carefully over the salad, turning it with a wooden spoon or your hands - you want to coat, not soak, the salad. Sprinkle with sumac powder, if available, and let sit for a minute so that the pita croutons can start getting soft. You want to eat the salad while the croutons are softening and before they get soggy. Can add cooked chickpeas, other beans, or cheese for protein if desired. Salad for one hungry person or a non main course for two.