When the weather turns hot and moist as summer ripens to late summer, appetite a bit dampened by heat, I think of cooking the sensual cuisines of the Mediterranean, particularly the eastern Mediterranean, with the skillful use of spices there that spark the palate. When the lettuce bolts and turns too bitter in the garden, simple salads of cucumber, tomato and fresh herbs take their place, and these travel well to the lazy picnics of the summertime. On the days when I feel a little more ambitious in the kitchen, I’ve been making a special version of Fatoush, which is the Arabic version of the ubiquitous bread salad that thrifty cooks make across the region.
I adapted this recipe from the fabulous Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean by Ana Sortun, a delightful cookbook organized not by dish or season but by groupings of spices, in this case parsley, mint, dill and sweet basil which are so abundant in August. I’ve replaced the greens (traditionally romaine) with nasturtium leaves and flowers here, but you can also use the radish leaves if they are young and tender, arugula, purslane, dandelion greens or another perky, leafy green. This dish contains many foods which are known to protect and nourish the heart by Chinese and Western medicine: tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil, peppers, radishes, the fresh herbs, the nasturtium flowers…and the joy you feel on seeing and eating it will certainly lighten your heart too. Make it a full lunch by adding cooked garbanzo beans and garnishing with feta. Serves 4-6.
1 ½ tablespoons sherry or wine vinegar
1 teaspoon umeboshi plum vinegar
½ tsp chopped preserved citrus peel or zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil or a mixture of olive and walnut oil
2 large heirloom or 24 cherry tomatoes
1 English or 2 Lebanese or 4 Persian cucumbers
1 red bell or 2 gypsy peppers
2 tablespoons sliced green onion or chives
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 cup nasturtium leaves and flowers, loosely packed or other greens
2 cups toasted pita chips*
2 teaspoons sumac (this tart purple spice can be found in Middle Eastern markets
or a good spice shop)
Make the vinaigrette by combining the vinegars, preserved lemon, mustard and olive oil in small jar and shaking until emulsified.
Chop the tomatoes into cubes or split the cherry tomatoes if they are large, and place them in a large salad bowl. Dice the cucumbers and peppers, and split the radishes in half if they are large, and add to the bowl along with the rest of the vegetables.
About 10 minutes before you serve the salad, add the salad dressing and pita chips, toss to combine, and finish with salt and pepper as needed. Garnish with sumac and serve.
*Make pita chips by tossing 2 large leftover pitas, torn into 1 ½” squares, with ¼ cup olive oil and spreading in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until crispy and golden, about 8 minutes.
Fall Classes: Check out my updated calendar for the remainder of 2014. Introduction to Fermentation is happening at 18 Reasons Sept. 8th, followed by Fall Fermentation on Sept. 29th. September 28 and November 8th are my in-depth nutrition and cooking classes for fall and winter, for licensed acupuncturists, students and interested lay people, at AIMC Berkeley, where I'll also be co-teaching Introduction to Oriental Medicine this fall with Dennis von Elgg, L.Ac.on Wednesday nights in October and November. Details coming soon on the AIMC site. Nov. 2nd I'll be doing Ferment the Fall Harvest with the Biofuel Oasis, where I'll be teaching vinegar for the first time, along with kimchi, kraut and more. And later that same day, join me for Seeking Peak Eating: A Workshop on Food and Pleasure at Manzanita Wellness from 2-4pm.