In the post below, I provide an affiliate link to Sumac -which can be hard to find for purchase- from Amazon.com. I receive pennies on the dollar for purchases made on Amazon if you click on the link. You can definitely gather your own sumac, dry it, and grind it, but sumac isn’t in season right now and we want salad!
Iiiiiiiiiiit’s salad time! And crouton time! I have a two-fer for you on this glorious (rainy here) Make Ahead Monday.
How much do you love salad this time of year? Maybe I should rephrase that. How much do I love salad this time of year? I’m nutty nuts over it.
I’m a definite crouton girl, too, so today is extra fun for me. I guess I should call today a three-fer because the garlic pita chips recipe I’m sharing does double duty all by itself. It serves as some world-class croutons, to be sure, but it’s also PERFECT for dipping into the summer standard hummus or whatever dunkable goodies you like best.
Do you love pita chips, too? I’m a little bonkers over them personally. They’re in the Bagel Chip category for the guys and me. I hear people crunching and munching on them from the moment the pan comes out of the oven until I hear hands swishing around for whatever leftover crumbs are rattling around at the bottom of the jar.
When I get a fresh batch of pita chips out of the oven, my first order of business is to set aside enough to make a massive batch of Fattoush. Fattoush -for those of you who aren’t lucky enough to live where there is great Lebanese food available- is my favourite summer salad by a mile and a half. Crisp Romaine lettuce is the base for this mega-refreshing herbed salad with a garlicky lemon, sumac, and oil dressing.
Now… A word or two on sumac. No: it’s not the poisonous kind. Poisonous sumac* you want to avoid, clearly, but edible sumac grows widely (and wildly) in many parts of the United States and is not only perfectly harmless, but is also perfectly tasty. There are three varieties -smooth, staghorn and dwarf- that are safe to eat. One identifying characteristic that they share is the bright red or brown hairy clusters of fruit that are about peppercorn sized and in an arrangement like upside-down clusters of grapes. You can gather them before a rainstorm (which washes away the lovely sour, citrus-like flavour), dry them, and grind them for your own FREE sumac, or you can do like I did this time and buy a bag of sumac from Amazon.com. Given that it won’t the the right season for gathering sumac for a couple of months, and we need salad THIS VERY DAY, I’d say buy the sumac.
*For a while last week, I thought I might be allergic to sumac and it made me very sad indeed. As it turns out, I was allergic to a gin & tonic I had made with a new brand of gin. This made me very happy indeed because frankly? I could care less about that gin & tonic.
Why bother? Well, I suppose you could skip it if you’re feeling REALLY cheap or doubtful, but your salad won’t be the same. I promise you this. Sumac delivers a punch of citrus that’s like lemon on steroids. That’s part of what makes this salad such a powerhouse of summer refreshment. Everyone who has had a proper Fattoush is nodding their heads in agreement right now. They’re also quietly wondering when I’ll bring up the herbs. Give me a minute, I have to address the subject of properly preparing your garlic for the dressing first.
How to prepare fresh garlic for salad dressing:
There’s a trick to coaxing the best flavour from garlic for a dressing and turning it into a paste that will distribute itself evenly and it doesn’t involve a garlic press. In fact, a garlic press can’t even dream of doing this nifty procedure. Simply put, you peel and roughly chop your garlic cloves then scrape them into a pile and sprinkle a teaspoon of coarse kosher salt over them. Then you alternate squashing or smearing the pile with the broad side of your knife and chopping it. Every so often, you stop, scrape it back together and repeat. Are we ‘why bothering’ again? I can explain! The salt helps break the garlic down and soften it into a paste instead of the stringy little bits of garlic that come through a garlic press. This paste can be whisked or shaken into the dressing for a smooth finish instead of chunky or string-like bits of garlic showing up when you least expect them. If texture isn’t a concern, think about how wonderfully and evenly the garlic paste will infuse your dressing! Believe me, once you’ve tried dressing made with garlic prepared this way, you won’t want to go back!
This gorgeous garlic goes into a jar with all of your other dressing ingredients, is tightly lidded and then shaken. Done! You now have enough dressing for three gigantic salads or numerous smaller salads and it stores wonderfully for up to two weeks. Does that make this recipe a four-fer instead of the three-fer we were up to?
Back to the herbs! Whatever you do, don’t skip the herbs here. Mint and parsley are CRUCIAL to the overall flavour. If you haven’t had the salad yet, you might scratch your head a bit at me, but I wouldn’t steer you wrong. It doesn’t scream MINT or PARSLEY but I guarantee you that if you leave them out, the salad will fall flat.
And while I’d usually rather lose a tooth to crunchy croutons than let them sit and soften in the salad dressing, that’s part of the charm of Fattoush. The crunchy pita chips sit in the dressing and start absorbing the good stuff. If you’ve done a good job of dressing your salad -in other words, not drowning it in dressing- the chips will not become soggy, but will just become a little less jarring to bite. My favourite stage of pita chip softening is about one hour into the salad being dressed but I also love it as much as five hours after dressing. That makes this a fabulous salad to take on a picnic or for a packed lunch.
Please make yourself some Baked Garlic Pita Chips and try this Fattoush. It will rock your summer salad world!
Are you a crouton lover? Do you like ‘em dead crisp or a little soaky?