To most people Tabouleh is the queen of all Leventine salads, and I can understand why. Tabouleh looks sophisticated, tastes sophisticated, takes hours to chop all that parsley and uses that super-cool in-fashion ingredient Bulgar. To me a much simpler salad, Fatoush, takes that top position and by long way.
Fatoush is a simple salad of roughly chopped vegetables and fried Arabic bread croutons for nice crunchy texture. A tangy strong dressing brings the flavours together.
To take your fatoush one step up and get that authentic taste you need a rather unusual ingredient, Purslane (pic). Purslane or Pa'aleh (بقلة) in Arabic is a leaf vegtable almost exclusively used in fatoush. It has a slightly tangy earthy flavour with a hint of bitterness. In London you can buy it from Damas Gate in Shepherd's Bush or some of the shops on Edgware Road. I am not sure if you can buy it in normal green grocers or in farmer's markets but don't be put off if you can't find it, use lettuce instead. In my family home in Syria we use lettuce rather than Ba'aleh 70% of the time.
For a healthier version toast your bread under the grill instead of frying. Another variation is to add pomegranate molasses to the dressing (this stuff is in fashion in Syria and people, including myself, are trying to add it to everything).
Here is my fatoush recipe:
Ba'aleh one bunch (use lettuce instead)
Arabic bread 1/2 loaf
For the dressing:
Olive oil 4tbs
White wine vinegar 1tbs
Lemon juice 2tbs
Sumac 1 tea spoon
Dry mint 1 tea spoon
Garlic 1 clove crushed
A sprinkle of salt
Cut the Arabic bread into small squares and fry in vegetable oil till deep golden colour. Drain on kitchen paper and let it cool down.
Roughly chop the tomatoes and cucumber and pick the Ba'aleh leafs. Whisk all the dressing ingredients.
Just before serving mix the bread vegetables and dressing and serve. Make sure you do this the last minute so the bread stays fresh and crunchy.