Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Bitter Bite

My pantry now has two new ingredients. They give my cooking a bitter bite. I discovered the flavours during my first foray into Lebanese cooking.

Sumac is an inexpensive spice which looks like nutmeg. It comes from the crushed, dried berries of the sumac bush, which grow wild in the Mediterranean and Middle East. You'll often see sumac sprinkled on hummus and pita bread, or used in spice rubs. Sumac lends a subtle, earthy bitterness.

Sumac, an essential ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine

Pomegranate molasses is another staple in Mid-East dishes. I've heard it referred to as "liquid rubies," possibly because the dark red molasses is derived from pricey pomegranate juice. The juice is boiled with sugar and lemon juice to make molasses. A tiny amount adds a sour punch to dressings, sauces and marinades. Some studies suggest that pomegranate molasses offers several health benefits including lowering cholesterol and boosting the immune system.
"Liquid Rubies," Pomegranate Molasses 
I thank my Canadian-Lebanese friend, Maya, for bringing those distinctive new flavours into AK's Kitchen. With Maya's help, I made my first ever batch of fattoush. The Lebanese salad contains your typical salad ingredients: lettuce, tomato, cucumber, garlic, plus fresh mint and parsley to give it a fresh, summery taste. Both herbs are natural breath fresheners. They are flavourful sources of vitamin C and B vitamins, including folic acid. 

Maya and I whipped up her family's fattoush recipe. Other versions call for cauliflower, red pepper, radish and onion. (I skipped the raw radish and onion because they don't sit well with me.) Feel free to add your favourite seasonal veggie.

The technique for this salad is to cut the veggies in a uniform size. Be generous with the lemon juice and garlic. And don't forget to add toasted pita for crunch. 


Salad: 1 head romaine lettuce; 1 large tomato; 1 handful fresh parsley; 1 handful fresh mint leaves; 1 cucumber; 1 green onion, two radishes; 1 large pita bread, toasted

Dressing: 2 cloves (or more) minced garlic; 
1/4 cup olive oil; juice from one lemon; 
2 pinches sumac; 1/4 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

1) Chop all the veggies into uniform pieces and place into a deep salad bowl. 
2) Combine dressing ingredients and toss into the salad.  
3) Break off pieces of toasted pita bread and sprinkle on top just before serving, so the pita doesn't go soggy.

Serves 6-8 side dishes. Enjoy!

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