Tag Archives: sumac

Fattoush for a final summer hurrah

I’m finding it hard to decide if summer is over. Is that it? Are we going to ease into chillier days via a bright, sunny but fairly fresh period of weather. Is it time to get out the lentils, pasta and various potato bakes? Well, not quite. I’ve still found that there is a warmth in the air in the early evening, so at the moment, I’m still quite happy to enjoy fresh salads before succumbing to cheese pasta bakes that will be on the menu come late September. Indeed, this weekend, it seems we are due to get another blast of heat from Continental Europe, so I’m sure we’ll get one last hurrah out in the park with a picnic before the chilly embrace of autumn comes upon us.

I’ve done posted a few salads recently, so today it’s more of the same I’m afraid. One of my favourites is the Middle Eastern fattoush, which is a lovely collection of fairly chunky vegetables, finished off with lots of crisp bread and flavoured with a sharp, lively dressing made with lemon and ground sumac.

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Fattoush can be made with pretty much whatever you have to hand – I’ve used a fairly traditional recipe with cos lettuce, tomato, red peppers, radishes, carrot, parsley, mint, spring onions and cucumber – and finished it with toasted flatbread and a dressing made with lemon juice and sumac (ground red berries that impart a fruity, sour flavour to the dish). This dressing is key – it needs to be fresh and it needs to be sour. However, you can of course add whatever other vegetables you fancy – like shredded red cabbage, mushrooms or onions – there are no hard or fast rules. In fact, onion is fairly traditional, but it can be a little overwhelming in a fresh salad, so I tend to omit it (and anyway, the milder spring onions seem to do the trick here).

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Now, the bread. This is so fundamental to fattoush that it is often called a toasted bread salad. I’ve seen various versions of fattoush that suggest using any sort of bread that you can lay your hands on. I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that this isn’t really the case. When made with things like cubes of sourdough bread, the effect is something more like large croutons than a salad that suggests the warm evening air of the Levant. No, I prefer to use flatbreads (the ones that look like a cross between a tortilla and a pitta), tear them up and toss in olive oil. Popping the bread into a hot oven allows you to keep a close eye on it, so you get pieces that are golden, toasted and crisp, but with none of the burnt bits that you can get it you shallow-fry the bread in a pan.

My three top tips for making excellent fattoush are fairly simple. First, the ingredients should be fresh but at room temperature. Carrots, tomato and radishes taste so much better if they are not icy-cold and straight from the fridge. Second, make sure the dressing is properly sour, made with lemon juice and sumac. This is the proper flavour of this salad. And third, keep the toasted bread apart from the rest of the salad, and only combine the vegetables, bread and dressing just before serving. This will keep the green leaves perky and the bread crisp. The salad tastes so much better if you have all the contrasting textures as you eat it. Colourful, tasty and healthy – you can you resist?

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To make Fattoush:

For the salad:

• 1 large flatbread
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 cucumber, halved and sliced
• 1 cos lettuce, chopped
• 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
• 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
• 6 radishes, trimmed and sliced
• 1/2 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped
• small handful fresh mint leaves, finely shredded
• small handful flat parley
• 1 spring onion, finely sliced
• zest of a lemon

For the dressing:

• 2 teaspoons ground sumac
• 1 tablespoon boiling water
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• salt, to taste

1. Tear the bread into pieces. Add the olive oil, tossing the bread to coat it, and place on a tray and bake in the oven at 180°C (350°F) until golden brown (watch it like a hawk – it goes from golden to burn quite rapidly). Remove and allow to cool.

2. Put the rest of the ingredients into a large bowl and toss to mix.

3. Make the dressing: put the sumac in a jam jar and add the boiling water. Allow to sit for a few minutes. Add the lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Seal the jar and shake vigorously until you have a smooth dressing. Add more lemon juice or olive oil as needed.

4. Serve the salad – add the bread to the salad, add the dressing and toss to ensure everythign is coated. Serve immediately.

Worth making? This is a great salad with lots of tastes and textures, and very fresh thanks to the use of lemon, parsley and mint. Good for a summer’s day as part of a picnic!

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Sumac Braised Nettles topped with Onion Seeds

The weather on Saturday was glorious in London. I wanted to go and see some countryside, so I jumped in the train from Stoke Newington up to Cheshunt to explore the River Lee park, a network of canals, footpaths and cycle tracks with pockets of woodland, meadow and grassy glades.

The Lee is a tributary of the River Thames, which forms the heart of one of the largest nature parks in or near London. With blue skies, warm air, the fresh green leaves of spring and white flowers of elder and hemlock everywhere, it was truly beautiful. See for yourself below! I will definitely be heading back soon with my bike to see more of the area.


In addition to all the spring flowers, there was also the old scourge of childhood, the stinging nettle. I’ve got to say, the nettles looked pretty impressive in huge drifts along the banks of the rivers and canals. This is spring, so everything looks new and fresh.

Before I set off on my little trip, I had fully expected to come across nettles, and as I had recently seen a recipe in the Observer Food Monthly by chef Silvena Rowe which used them, I came armed with a bag and some gloves. Her recipe involved briefly cooking the nettle leaves, adding them to what seemed like a risotto mixture, then finishing with a good dash of sumac and a generous sprinkling of black onion seeds. I picked a good serving of nettle leaves, then we headed up through the park in the sun. It was hot, and we loved it. A great day out which I can really recommend. Just remember the sunscreen as you are walking along rivers, and you otherwise end up with a very rosy glow by sundown.

Once home, I duly made my nettle dish. While nettles will sting you when you are in the country side or the garden, their sting is neutralised by cooking, and in this case, wilting the leaves in water for a couple of minutes. They also have the advantage of apparently being very, very healthy. I expected this dish to be very much like a risotto…except, it wasn’t. It was delicious, but the texture was more like a rice salad, with a very fresh character from the sumac and onion seeds. The feta provided a strong, salty element to the dish, and on balance, it made a really nice light supper on a hot day. Yes, I was perhaps a little bit red, and a nice light meal was perfect as my body continued to radiate heat long after the sun had set…

If you would like to try Silvena’s recipe for sumac braised nettles topped with onion seeds, you can find it here.

In making it, however, I made a few tweaks. I used less nettles – probably two cups of just the fresh leaves as this was all I had. I needed to add a bit more liquid during the cooking, and I also added quite a bit more sumac than the recipe called for (probably a whole teaspoon in the end). Finally, I coated the top of the feta in more sumac to provide a bit of colour and to contrast with the rice and nettles. While the recipe is supposed to serve four (and this would be true as a side dish), I think it really makes a generous dinner for two.

Worth making? This is a nice dish which I’ll try again as it makes a pleasant change from risotto when you want to make a rice dish. The black onion seeds were particularly good. However, I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that while I am glad I tried this, but I probably won’t be making it again with nettles. It was interesting to try, but I had expected a bit more “wow” from them. While this dish will probably appear on the menu again, it will be with spinach or chard. I guess I’m just not enough of a fan of cooking dinner in a pair of rubber gloves.

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