Soggy. It happens. You get caught in the rain, and your shoes get soggy. You go for a dip in the pool, and your swimsuit gets soggy. You dry yourself after a shower, and your towel gets soggy. Soggy is one of the most uncomfortable and unattractive states of being wet. No one likes soggy. It has negative connotations, like the swamp it was named after. We don’t like being in a swamp and we certainly don’t like eating one.
If ever a food looses its charm, it is when it goes soggy. Flabby French toast, clumped cornflakes and plastered pie crust -- the list is as endless as that rather wet river flowing to the sea. Nowhere is damp more unappealingly dull than when a perfectly well-constructed sandwich is sodden with torrents of oil and vinegar in the old American classic, the sub, hero, grinder or hoagie. A national institution, the bullet-shaped delicatessen sandwich is as popular as it ever was, with fierce competition among a handful of corporate chains vying for market share not unlike the cola wars.
I wish I could say I was one of their customers. Never mind trying to fit my small hands and jaws around the clumsy girth of a football spilling its layers of cold cuts and salad shred all over the table, but the squish of limp, leaden bread weakening the last walls of civilized eating was the last straw.
It wasn’t until several years later, when my tastes matured and culinary curiosity got the best of me, that I revisited the idea of bread and salad in the same breath. Broadening my scope beyond U.S. borders, I perked up at the idea of pan bagna, spinning a diaphanous French fantasy of opening carefully wrapped picnic parcels on the side of a provincial road on midsummer’s eve. The quest, unfortunately, was still on. The French are a fine people with remarkable food, but a sloppy sub sandwich by any other name is still a sloppy sub sandwich.
By the time I discovered the meals of the Middle East, I was more than a little wary of fatoush, the popular Lebanese bread salad. While I was intrigued by the use of zahtar seasoning, I couldn’t get my mind passed the prejudice of my earlier wet-ragged disappointments. I could see myself picking out dead chunks of bread all over again. I just knew fatoush would not live up to my expectations, so I went out for all the ingredients, just so I could prove myself right.
Fatoush and I are now friends, but not before it made a fool out of me. I had it coming, I suppose. When pre-conceived notions stand in the way of progress, all you are left with is a soggy mind. I was all wet.
Fatoush - My own recipeThis post is being submitted to Lis of La Mia Cucina for the food blogging event, Salad Stravaganza, which she is co-hosting with Kelly of Sass & Veracity.
[Fatoush has as many variations as there are cooks. The only constant is pita bread.]
2 pita bread pockets (cut into strips or squares)
2 cups cucumber, cubed (peel if waxed)
1 cup chopped tomato
½ cup chopped red onion
1 handful chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice, strained of seeds and pulp
1 tablespoon zahtar seasoning (or spice mix of your choice)
1/8 teaspoon salt
Optional protein additions – small can of drained chickpeas and/or 1 cup cubed feta cheese
Bake pita pieces in 400 degree F oven for approximately 8 minutes or until hard and toasted, but not overly browned.
In a large bowl, combine cucumber, tomato, red onion and parsley. In a separate bowl, mix oil, lemon juice, seasoning and salt. Set dressing aside for ten minutes then mix into vegetables.
Right before serving, add chickpeas and/or feta (if using), then gently mix in pita.
Tip: The pita must always be added last. Unlike croutons which are tossed on top of a salad, the pita is mixed in. The crunchy texture is at its best when consumed right away.
Serves 2. --