Saturday was a have-lunch-in-the-garden kind of day, and Stevie Parle’s recipes in the Weekend section of The Telegraph could not have been more appropriate, with summer meatballs, a crushed pea and mozzarella starter and a beautiful fattoush salad all featuring. Made with chopped seasonal vegetables, pitta bread and salad leaves, fattoush is a popular Lebanese salad known for its distinctive, sumac-spiked citric tang and an intriguing, exotic, verdant taste.
The fattoush is a great way of highlighting whatever vegetables and herbs are in season, and since our peas are nowhere near ready (and bought podded peas are a little joyless compared to the real thing), I decided to make mine with mild, crisp radishes; chopped cucumber, blanched new-season asparagus tips, baby gem and pomegranate seeds. I also used some coriander, mint, scallions and parsley from the garden, which is just now coming into its most pleasingly industrious phase: all neat and and exact and green, and just asking for a salad to be made from its tender wares.
While this fattoush is based on Parle’s recipe, I decided not to use specified tomatoes or fresh peas, and I blanched the asparagus to suit my preferences (even if they would have been prettier left raw). I also added more pitta bread, toasted with olive oil and garlic, and used chopped coriander instead of dill and it turned out beautifully. Indeed, one of the joys of fattoush is how accommodating it is of change – you can adjust the ingredients to suit the contents of your garden or your fridge, and according to Parle, you can ‘pretty much use any vegetables you have around… you just want a nice mix of flavours, colours and textures’. The sumac, a Middle Eastern spice with a deep red colour and a flavour falling somewhere between the sour bitterness of citrus fruits and the warm richness of chilli powder, enlivens the spring vegetables and makes them taste even fresher and brighter than before. Try this for lunch, brunch or as a light dinner with soft or hard boiled eggs, feta, hummus, baba ganoush and lots more warm pitta bread, herbs and oil.
FATTOUSH – LEBANESE GARDEN SALAD
Serves 3 – double or triple quantities as required
3 pitta bread
1 garlic clove
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
1 little gem lettuce
1/2 a cucumber, diced
8 asparagus, steamed and blanched
8 radishes, chopped as required (leave whole if small)
Large handfuls of fresh coriander, mint and flat-leaf parsley, diced
Optional: fresh peas, halved cherry tomatoes, boiled eggs, feta, grilled chicken, green olives, dill…
Juice of half a lemon
1tsp of sumac
Good-quality olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200C. Split the pitta bread in half and place on a baking tray and rub with garlic and olive oil. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes until crisp, but not coloured. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, place the diced cucumber, radishes, tomatoes, herbs, little gem, asparagus and pomegranate in a large salad bowl. Break in the pitta bread, season well, then squeeze in the lemon and drizzle over a little olive oil. Sprinkle in the sumac, then toss everything well. Taste and adjust the seasoning and leave the salad for half an hour or so before eating. Just before serving, add more chopped herbs, pomegranate seeds and olive oil.
(We do actually have asparagus in our garden too, but just one stem, a cosseted little thing which I would never be allowed to cook – it has egg shells and copper tape around it to keep predatory snails away)