Monday, 11 May 2015

Beetroot and aubergine "fattoush" salad

Beetroot and aubergine "fattoush" salad

This beetroot and aubergine "fattoush"is my favorite salad lately. 
Since the first time I prepared it, few weeks ago, I have been making again and again without getting bored of it. Actually each time I made it, I tried to refine the initial recipe with some variations until I finally found the "perfect" combination of ingredients, at least for my taste.
But, to be honest, this is not a recipe that I have developed totally by myself. In fact it was during a cooking demo - held at Bloomie's Kitchen by Troy Payne, head chef at Cle restaurant - that I had the chance to know and try for the first time the recipe, and actually loved it at the first taste.
Chef Troy described the recipe as his personal take on the fattoush salad, one of the most popular and prepared Middle Eastern dish; and also a way to make more appetizing two vegetables, aubergine and beetroot, that he personally doesn't rave about.
With this introduction, and considering the fact that, on the contrary, I love both aubergines and beets, as well as fattoush indeed, I couldn't not to like this salad!

And in fact I replicated at home very soon after the demo, probably just the following day. The first time I followed the chef's recipe literally but, even if I liked it as it was, I immediately thought that I had to add or change something, just to give it a more personal touch. 
So in the following remakes of the dish, I started experimenting with small variations and / or additions: different proportions of the marinade ingredients, additions of nuts (I tried pine nuts and pistachios which worked well), black pepper, lemon zest, and other things, until I finally added THE ingredient I was looking for, pomegranate molasses (that's actually one of the ingredients of the "original" fattoush dressing). 
It is not such a big variation compared to the original, but I think  that the peculiar, deep flavor of pomegranate molasses - tangy with a bit of sweetness - perfectly complements the flavors of all the other ingredients. And this is the recipe I want to share here.
Beetroot and aubergine "fattoush" salad

I find this salad, exactly like the inspirational fattoush, perfect as part of a mezze (starters) spread, but it can also be served as a side for fish, meat or vegetarian main dishes. Adding some crumbled feta cheese or goat cheese it is a delicious solution for a tasty yet healthy, light and balanced lunch. 
As I said before, toasted pine nuts or pistachios match well with the main ingredients, and pomegranate seeds make a beautiful decoration. 
And also if you like fresh coriander you can add some or use it in place of parsley.

A note on the bread used to garnish the salad, that again - even if I live in the Middle East, I had the chance to finally discover thanks to this recipe. Fattoush salad is usually garnished with toasted or fried pieces of pita or flatbread. In this recipe saj bread (also known as markouk or markook) is used instead. This bread is a variety of flatbread common in the countries of the Levant; it is a very thin, almost translucent bread, cooked on a domed metal griddle, named saj, and usually quite large (and in fact it is folded and put into bags before being sold). It is mainly used as a wrap for meat or vegetables, but can also be eaten alone or, like in this salad, toasted until crispy and used as a garnish. I particularly love the contrast between the thin, crispy pieces of bread and the other textures in the salad - but if you can't find saj bread any other kind of flatbread will work well too.
Beetroot and aubergine "fattoush" salad

Beetroot and aubergine "fattoush" salad
serves 4
2 medium aubergines
3 - 4 small beetroots
1 purple onion, very thinly sliced
120 ml red vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
2 heaped tablespoons sumac, plus extra to garnish 
30 - 40 g (about 1 cup) parsley leaves
30 - 40 g (about 1 cup) fresh mint leaves
50 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
sea salt
1 sheet Saj bread (or 2 flatbread)
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Trim the beetroots stalks. Wash well the beetroot then wrap them individually in aluminum foil and bake for about 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a skewer or a sharp knife (baking time strongly depends on beetroot size and variety). When cooked through remove from the oven and let rest until cold, then unwrap and peel with a small knife.
Roll the bread and cut into strips, place onto a baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and toast in the oven until they are crispy and golden brown. Set aside.
Place the onion in a small mixing bowl, add the vinegar, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons sumac, mix well and let rest while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise, then into 1 cm thick slices.
Heat 3 - 4 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan, then fry the aubergines turning them from time to time, until they are golden brown and cooked through (you'll probably need to do this in batches, as it is important to place the aubergines in a unique layer).  Remove from the pan and transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain excess oil.
Cut the roasted beets into slices or even cubes of 2 to 3 cm.
Drain the onion from the marinade, reserving some of the liquid.
In a large bowl combine the onion, aubergines, beets, mint and parsley and mix gently (salad).
In a small bowl, combine 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, pomegranate molasses, 1 teaspoon of the reserved marinade, a pinch of salt and whisk well (dressing).
Gently arrange the salad into a serving dish, drizzle the dressing on top, garnish with the toasted bread, sprinkle some more sumac and serve.
Beetroot and aubergine "fattoush" salad

Cle is the Dubai restaurant of Australian-Lebanese Chef Greg Malouf, a Michelin - starred chef and author of several renowned cookbooks; the restaurant offers a so-called "modern Middle Eastern cuisine" with dishes inspired by traditional Middle Eastern recipes reviewed with a contemporary touch and modern cooking techniques. I visited once and enjoyed the style of the cuisine as well as the service.

Bloomie's Kitchen is an area within Dubai Bloomingsdale department store where cooking classes and cooking demos with guest chefs are periodically held. You can check Bloomingsdale's Facebook page for updates.