Craving fresh fruit and vegetables on the bus home last night after various overindulgences (mostly of the pizza and wine variety) at the weekend, I was struck down by an irresistible urge to make the Syrian fattoush from Moro East. It hits the mark on so many fronts: the sour fruitiness of the pomegranate seeds and juice, the filling toastiness of the crisped flatbread, the freshness of the tomatoes, parsley, and mint, and the savoury deliciousness of fried aubergines, spring onions, and a hint of garlic in the dressing.
Dashing into the supermarket, desperately trying to picture the recipe in my head, I managed to remember everything except the tomatoes, necessitating a dash to my local organic shop later when my very helpful other half emailed me the recipe and I hit myself hard on the head as a punishment for my shoddy memory. The tomatoes I scored may have been pricey, but they were a bit on the pale and watery side. Serves me right for buying out of season. No matter, as even with the substandard tomatoes, the salad hit the spot. Deseeding two pomegranates was a serious test of my patience, but ultimately worth it, in spite of the purple-splattered walls that really must be repainted before my landlady sees them. The salad was ready in time for me to scoff from a bowl while watching Glee – bliss. I feel healthier already.
There are even plenty of leftovers for two of us to have for lunch today, in a new venture that involves Jessie and I each bringing in something to share once a week, in an effort to encourage homemade lunchboxes and a bit of variety. My fattoush may be at odds with her Tuscan bean soup today – it remains to be seen – but a two-course homemade lunch is not to be sniffed at.
Syrian fattoush (from Moro East) – serves 4
1 large aubergine, cut into 1.5cm cubes and tossed with 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tablespoons (120ml) olive oil
16 ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
seeds of 1 small pomegranate (about 100g)
1 small bunch of mint (about 20g), roughly chopped
1 medium bunch of flat-leaf parsley (about 40g), leaves picked
Crispbread: 1 quantity flatbread dough or 2 pitta breads, flour for dusting, 25g unsalted butter
Roll out and stretch the flatbread dough/s until extremely thin and almost translucent, about 25cm in diameter. Lightly dust with flour. Put a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and, when hot, place one of the flatbreads in it. Cook until lightly coloured underneath, then invert to cook the other side. Remove and leave to cool. If using shop-bought pitta, just carefully split them in half lengthways. Melt the butter and brush it on both sides of the bread. Place the breads on a rack in the middle of the oven and bake until golden – about 5-10 minutes for paper-thin homemade flatbread, 10-15 minutes for thicker pitta bread. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Dressing: seeds of 1 small pomegranate (about 100g), squeezed to make juice, ½ small garlic clove crushed to a paste with a pinch of salt, 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
To make pomegranate juice, cut the pomegranate in half, break open each half and pick out the seeds, being careful not to include any of the pith, as it is very bitter. Put the seeds in a sieve set over a bowl and crush them with your hands as much as possible, to extract the juice. Then push them against the sieve with the back of a large spoon to extract as much of the remaining juice as possible. Mix with all the other ingredients and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
For the aubergine, rinse off the salt and dry well with kitchen paper. Heat up the olive oil in a large frying pan or wok over a high heat and fry the aubergine for almost 10 minutes, until soft and deep golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm.
To serve the salad, combine two-thirds of the crispbread with the tomatoes, spring onions, aubergine, two-thirds of the pomegranate seeds and the herbs in a large salad bowl, breaking up the bread with your hands as you go. Now pour on the dressing and toss very gently. Taste for seasoning and serve with the remaining crispbread and pomegranate seeds on top.