Monday, May 23, 2016

Middle Eastern Chips and Salsa

Middle Eastern Chips and Salsa

What does spring taste like? It's definitely green. Herbal. And maybe a little tart. Spring dishes celebrate all those fresh flavors that went missing during the winter months. This is one of those ideal dishes for tasting spring.

I created this dish as appetizer for a dinner party. My original concept was a marriage between two classic dishes that celebrate the union of bread and vegetables: fattoush, which is a Middle Eastern bread salad with vegetables and pita pieces, and bruschetta, an Italian dish that consists of garlic-rubbed toasted bread often served with a topping, such as fresh tomatoes and basil.

I planned on making a fattoush-like salad with finely chopped ingredients and serving atop wedges of toasted pita. But I backed out of this plan thinking that the vegetable topping, which is pretty moist, would soak the pita too much. So instead, I decided to serve the topping in a bowl next to the pitas and use the pitas as chips for dipping into the topping. And, duh, that's basically what chips and salsa is, the favorite free (usually) appetizer of great Mexican restaurants everywhere.

The spices are essential to this dish, especially the ground sumac berries, which give the salsa an earthy tartness. Za'atar, if you're not familiar with it, is a Middle Eastern spice blend. There's some variation among specific za'atar blends, but I recommend finding one with thyme, sumac and sesame seeds as prominent ingredients.

Middle Eastern Chips and Salsa

1 tsp. ground sumac
1 tsp. warm water
3 whole-wheat pitas
Olive oil spray
1 tbsp. za'atar spice blend
2 medium tomatoes
1/2 cucumber
3 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
3 scallions, green part only, finely chopped
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. honey
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Salt, to taste

1. Combine the sumac and water in small bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut pitas into fourths, then carefully separate the two layers, resulting in 24 quarter-round pieces. Place the pitas on a baking sheet with the rough side (i.e., the side the inner side) up. Spray the pitas with olive oil, then sprinkle with za'atar. Bake in the oven until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the chips to a cooling rack.

3. Slice off the tops of the tomatoes and squeeze the juice and seeds out, then chop the tomatoes into a fine dice. Peel and seed the cucumber, and chop into a similarly sized dice. Combine the diced vegetables in a small bowl and add the mint, scallions. Whisk together the soaked sumac with the soaking liquid, lemon juice, honey, olive oil, garlic powder and salt. Combine with the vegetable mixture and toss to coat. Serve the salsa in a bowl next to a plate with the pita chips.

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