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Fattoush Salad with Ricotta Salata Cheese

Deep crimson ground sumac, the crushed dried berry of a bush widely found in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, is an essential ingredient in this dish. Its citrusy tang cannot be matched, so seek out the spice in Middle Eastern or specialty-food stores. Purslane, a sour, succulent Mediterranean herb, is also a classic addition, but if you cannot find it, use mâche or more romaine.

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil for frying  
  • 1 large pita bread round, torn into bite-size pieces 
  • 1 heart of romaine lettuce, cored and chopped (about 2 cups) 
  • 1 cup purslane, chopped (see note above) 
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise 
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced  
  • 1/3 cup very thinly sliced red onion 
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh mint 
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • 2 oz. ricotta salata cheese, coarsely grated (optional) 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground sumac, plus more for garnish 
  •   

For the dressing: 

  • 3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt 
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper 
  • 1/4 tsp. ground sumac 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil 

Directions:

In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, pour in olive oil to a depth of 1 inch and heat until hot. Add some of the pita pieces; do not crowd the pan. Fry, turning once, until golden brown, about 1 minute. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining pita pieces. Let cool completely.

In a large salad bowl, combine the lettuce, purslane, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, mint, parsley, ricotta salata and the 1/2 tsp. sumac.

To make the dressing, in a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, salt, pepper and sumac. Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until a smooth, emulsified dressing forms.

Add the pita pieces to the salad and drizzle half of the dressing over the top. Toss to mix well. Sample a lettuce leaf or two and a bite of vegetable. Add more dressing if needed. (Refrigerate the remaining dressing for another use; it will keep for up to 7 days.) Sprinkle the salad with 
a little more sumac and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

Fresh take: Fattoush is really a Middle Eastern version of panzanella, Italy’s popular bread salad. This nontraditional version includes a handful of dry, salty ricotta salata cheese.

Make it a meal: Turn this crunchy, flavorful salad into a light dinner by adding sliced grilled or poached chicken breast. For a crowd, pile the salad on a platter, then top it with the chicken and pass a bowl of extra cheese at the table.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Good Food to Share, by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan (Weldon Owen, Inc., 2010).