kale fattoush

kale fattoush

If I had to pick one word to describe fattoush, I would call it meaty. Don't get me wrong, this traditional Middle Eastern salad is 100% vegan, and it's essentially just veggies and bread, but it tastes so much more substantial than it looks. The toasted, staled, or (in this case) fried pita chips add a lot of gravity to the crunchy romaine and big chunks of summer veggies. Since I eat classic fattoush all the time, I like to change my recipe a little whenever I make it, and lately I've been adding lots of chopped kale instead of romaine, which makes for an even heartier salad.

Massaging Kale
Pita chips
Kale Fattoush

If you've made a kale salad before, you're probably familiar with the concept of massaging the greens. I used to think this was a sort of ridiculously over the top thing to do (I think we can all agree that it's at least a very silly phrase), but it really makes all the difference. The kale starts out with the consistency of that green cellophane they use to wrap gift baskets, but after a brief olive oil massage, it takes on a texture much more like al dente noodles—pleasantly chewy, and definitely not sharp or crinkly. I've also experimented with massaging the leaves through a plastic bag, which is a pretty good good alternative if you prefer not to touch food with your bare hands, but it's not quite the same a real deep tissue massage.

Kale Fattoush

When I make this salad with kale, I like to add a little pomegranate molasses to accent the brightness of the lemon and sumac, as well as some toasted sesame seeds to give this salad a little more depth. And for a little more fragrance, I replaced the mint with basil—it's the fattoush you know and love, but with a few small twists. If you want to modify this recipe to make it a vegan main course, feel free to add one or two cans of rinsed chickpeas, but it also goes great with kebabs or lahm bi ajeen.

kale fattoushie

kale fattoush

yield: 6 servings
total time: 35 minutes
for variations, try my
classic fattoush and grilled radicchio fattoush
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  • 1 pint to 1 quart oil for deep frying (e.g., peanut, canola, corn, olive oil, but not extra virgin)

  • 2 medium pitas, cut into small triangles (store-bought or homemade)

  • 1/2 pound washed, dried, stemmed, and chopped kale (from 1 large or 2 small bunches)

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided into 1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons

  • 1 1/2 cups large-chopped cucumbers, (2 to 3 Persian cucumbers)

  • 2 cups large-chopped tomatoes, (3 roma tomatoes)

  • 1 1/2 cups large-chopped green pepper (1 pepper)

  • 1 cup chopped parsley (1 bunch)

  • 1/4 cup chiffonade basil

  • 3/4 cups chopped green onions (3 or 4 green onions)

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice, (1 lemon)

  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses *

  • 3 tablespoons sumac **

  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
    2 tablespoons lightly toasted sesame seeds (plus an extra 1 teaspoon for garnish)

  1. Set up a safe fry station on the stove or in a dedicated deep fryer. Turn the heat to high so that the oil slowly rises to 340° F.

  2. To fry the pita chips, work in batches and don't crowd the oil. Once the oil has heated, add a handful of pita chips and stir them around, keeping a close eye on them. Once they're golden brown and crispy (about 1 minute), remove them with a slotted spoon or spider.

  3. Add the kale to a big serving bowl and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Massage the oil into the leaves by crushing them with your hands until they shrink down a bit and become more tender. This should take about 3 to 5 minutes. ***

  4. Add the cucumbers, tomatoes, green pepper, parsley, basil, and green onions.

  5. When you're ready to serve, toss the salad with the lemon juice, pomegranate syrup, sumac, salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 tablespoons sesame seeds. Right before serving, toss in the pita chips and top with the extra teaspoon of sesame seeds for garnish.

* Pomegranate molasses is available in Middle Eastern markets and some grocery stores in the ethnic foods aisle. You could also make your own. It keeps very well and is used in a lot of Middle Eastern recipes.
** Sumac is also available in Middle Eastern markets and some grocery stores, but it's also very easy to find online. I use sumac in several of my recipes, and it's a good thing to have in your pantry if you want to make a lot of Middle Eastern food. Learn more about it here.
*** If you don't like touching food with your hands, you could instead mix the kale with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a gallon ziplock bag, press all the air out of the bag, and massage the bag for a couple minutes. But if you plan to store it in the fridge afterward, it's important to let the air back in the bag.

Storage suggestions: If you are planning on keeping some of the salad as left overs or packing it to take to work, it's best to mix up the dressing (lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, sumac, salt, and 2T olive oil) on the side. To pack up your salad, get out as many storage containers as will fit the salad. Massage the kale with 1T oil. Shake the dressing well and then divide it evenly between the container(s). Place the kale on top of the dressing, followed by the veggies, then the herbs, and then pack the pita chips in a sealed plastic bag on top of the greens. Once you're ready to eat, you can toss everything together and enjoy.

kale fattoushie

za'atar flatbread | manakish za'atar | lakhm'it za'atar

manakish za'atar / lakhm'it za'atar

If you know me through my blog, you might not know that I'm also a full-time PhD student and teacher. Though I teach and write about fourteenth century English poetry, I don't like to get too academic when I write about food on my blog. But this week, I had a few quick thoughts on language that I wanted to share.

When you're running an English language Middle Eastern food blog, transliterating words (or translating them from one alphabet into another) into English is a challenge. There's technically no single right way to transliterate words from Arabic or Assyrian, which is frustrating since one of my goals is to make my website searchable and standardized.

So when I was working on the post on lahm bi ajeen (Middle Eastern meat flatbread), I was trying to figure out how to spell the name, so I asked my mom. She immigrated to the United States when she was a kid, so while she used to speak Arabic when she was little, she mostly grew up speaking English and Assyrian, a vernacular Aramaic language, and no longer speaks Arabic.

manakish za'atar / lakhm'it za'atar
manakish za'atar / lakhm'it za'atar
manakish za'atar / lakhm'it za'atar
manakish za'atar / lakhm'it za'atar

She suggested spelling it "lakhma bi ajeen," because we assumed that the word lakhma must mean bread in Arabic, as it does in Assyrian. But when I did a quick search, I learned that, while lakhma means bread in Assyrian, lahm actually means meat in Arabic. So lakhma bi ajeen is like one of those funny portmanteaus that doesn't translate well from one language to another; in Assyrian, it essentially means "bread of the dough" instead of "meat of the dough."

But it turns out we weren't so far off base after all, since the two words are etymologically related. According to Stephan Guth, the word was originally used to generally refer to whatever food was the main substance of the meal, but the meaning of the word changed over time through semantic narrowing.

Narrowing is a linguistic phenomenon where words take on more specific meanings as time goes on. So in this case, the original word came to refer to two totally different foods in each language (meat in Arabic and bread in Assyrian). And so now whenever we Assyrians eat meat pies, we call them bread of the dough. Language is such a funny thing.

manakish za'atar / lakhm'it za'atar

But since it's lahm-less flatbread, lakhm'it za'atar in Assyrian, or manakish za'atar in Arabic (also known as manaeesh), doesn't get into quite as much linguistic trouble as lahm bi ajeen. This flatbread is a really lovely meatless alternative, and it's especially good if you make your own za'atar, which is a lot easier than it sounds. Adding cheese is totally optional, but it makes this more of a main-course, instead of a mezze or a snack. There are a lot of wonderful variations—my cousin, Sourma, recently posted some beautiful photos of a trip she took to Furn Saj Bakery in LA. Feel free to check out their menu for some man'oushpiration. If you're looking for a menu featuring this recipe, check out my Cook for Syria supper club menu.

manakish za'atar / lakhm'it za'atar
manakish za'atar / lakhm'it za'atar

manakish za’atar

Yield: 4 small flatbreads
for more variations, check out my
manakish variations with Seven Spice Life

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sumac-heavy za'atar *
Salt, to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon)
1 pound pizza dough **
Semolina or cornmeal, for sprinkling
optional: 1 cup loosely packed crumbled feta (for all 4 pizzas)
optional, for serving: 1 1/2 cup combination of olives, diced tomatoes, and diced cucumbers, plus minced mint or parsley

  • Place a pizza stone (or sheet pan) on the oven floor, move the oven racks up and out of the way, so you can easily access the pizza stone, and pre-heat the oven to 500° F.

  • Combine the olive oil and za'atar. Salt it to taste if you're using unseasoned za'atar.

  • Lightly flour a clean, food-safe work surface, use a knife or bench scraper to divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, and shape each chunk into a round ball.

  • Roll each dough ball into a circle, about 1/8 inch thick. To keep the round shape, rotate the disc about 90 degrees after each time you roll it out, and be sure to re-flour the surface every so often.

  • Sprinkle semolina or cornmeal on a pizza peel or thin cutting board. Place one dough disc on the cutting board. Top with about 1/4 of the za'atar mixture (about a heaping tablespoon) and spread it out using your fingers or the back of a spoon. Top with 1/4 cup of feta cheese, if using. Let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes before it goes in the oven.

  • Once the oven has preheated, use a quick motion to move the pie from the pizza peel onto the pizza stone. Cook for about 5-8 minutes, until the edges start to brown and the bread is cooked through. The dough should be crispy and chewy, like really good brick oven pizza.

  • Repeat with the remaining 3 pies.

* If you didn't blend it yourself, taste it. If it's on the tangy side, it's sumac-heavy. If it's on the bitter side, it's thyme-heavy. If it's thyme-heavy, simply blend a tablespoon or two of sumac, or just cut back on the amount of za'atar you use if you don't have sumac around.
** If you're making your own dough, simply make this recipe for pizza dough. Divide it into 6 pieces, and you'll have 2 left over after using 4 for this recipe. Feel free to turn them into pita bread, or freeze them to make pizza another time.

manakish za'atar / lakhm'it za'atar