At her restaurants Reem’s California, acclaimed chef Reem Assil has been treating Bay Area residents to the flavors of the Arabian diaspora since she started years ago as a farmer’s market pop-up. Inspired by foods she ate growing up as a Syrian-Palestinian kid in Massachusetts and by the lively bakeries she experienced in Lebanon, her brick and mortar locations have become beacons of Arab cuisine. Now, with her debut cookbook Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora, she’s helping people bring those flavors home. The chef shared with us a salad that’s good for all seasons, but especially in the summer, when you can get produce that really makes it shine.
In my earliest food memories, my mom is frying leftover bread into an addictive crunchy snack, a topping for soups or, more often than not, croutons for fattoush. Although I loved the chips, I fault the tasteless trucked-in tomatoes for my childhood aversion to the salad, an aversion I abandoned the first time I tasted field-fresh tomatoes in California. There’s no need to forgo this staple of the Palestinian dinner table when tomatoes fall out of season, since citrus makes a great winter substitute.
The medley of vegetables is what makes fattoush so special. If you’re not a purist, you can make it a medley of anything. Mine has all the elements of a delicious balanced salad: mustardy arugula, Little Gem or romaine lettuce for crunch, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, spicy radishes and fresh herbs. This base welcomes seasonal additions. In the summer, I add corn—grilled or raw—pomegranate seeds, pickled cherries or fresh purslane. In the winter, I swap segments of Cara Cara oranges and other citrus and fried sunchokes in place of tomatoes. In the spring, I look for varieties of radishes, including Easter Egg, Ninja and French Breakfast to mix things up a little.
California Fattoush Salad
- Garlic clove, crushed
- Lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
- 1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
- 0.5 tsp. kosher salt
- 0.25 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 0.25 c. extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 c. store-bought pita chips or 2-inch pieces of pita bread, fried
- 2 c. halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 Persian cucumber, halved lengthwise and cut into ⅛-inch crescents
- (about 1 c.)
- 4 radishes, sliced into thin rounds
- 0.25 red onion, halved stem to root and thinly sliced into crescents (about 1 cup)
- 2 c. Little Gem lettuce or chopped Romaine
- 2 c. loosely packed arugula Leaves from 2 sprigs of parsley Leaves from 2 sprigs of mint
- 1 tbsp. sumac
To make the dressing: Combine all of the ingredients in a blender or a bowl and mix or whisk to incorporate. Make sure to whisk well again before using, since the oil will separate.
To assemble the salad: In a medium bowl, toss half the chips with the tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, onion, Little Gem and 0.25 c. of the dressing.
Lay the arugula on a serving platter and cover evenly with the dressed veggies and chips. Tuck the remaining half of the pita chips into the salad to fill in any gaps. Drizzle the remaining dressing over the salad. Sprinkle the parsley and mint over the dish and top with the sumac.
Reprinted with permission from Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora by Reem Assil, copyright © 2022. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.