A Taste of Syria

A Taste of Syria

A recipe for fatteh, a hearty dish of crispy pita bread beneath chickpeas and a luscious garlic-yogurt-tahini sauce.

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Fatteh is a hearty casserole of crispy pita bread beneath creamy, warm chickpeas and a luscious
garlic-yogurt- tahini sauce, most commonly garnished with hot ghee, toasted pine nuts and fresh chopped parsley. Fatteh was featured at my first dinner at Ritsona refugee camp in Greece, with yogurt Umm Ibrahim and the other women made themselves.

The classic recipe uses deep fried pita. But oil for deep-frying can be wasteful and costly, a luxury many Syrians in the diaspora don’t have; I adjusted the recipe to toast the bread instead. I also use butter for garnish instead of ghee, because ghee isn’t as widely available in the US and Europe.

Chickpeas*
1 29oz can chickpeas
or
1 cup dried chickpeas
1½ tsp baking soda
4 cups water
1 tsp salt

Crispy bread
2 large pitas
2 tablespoon olive oil

Yogurt-tahini sauce
2 cups full-fat yogurt, brought to room temperature
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, mashed
1½ tbsp tahini
½ tsp table salt

Garnish
2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
2 tbsp parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp butter, browned (and HOT)

*A note on dried vs. canned chickpeas: Most of the time, canned chickpeas fulfill my needs, but I much prefer boiling my own because the flavor is deeper and bolder, and the broth can come in handy. That’s especially the case for this dish. Chickpeas are the star here, and the flavor and consistency you get from a fresh pot of warm, buttery chickpeas made from scratch is just so worth the slightly extra effort. Because you need the chickpea broth here, you can avoid the sodium-infused stuff from the can if you make your own.

If you’re using dried chickpeas: Put them in a bowl with plenty of water and the baking soda to soak for a minimum of 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

When you’re ready to boil the chickpeas, pour them out into a colander and rinse them thoroughly. Put them in a medium pot with 4 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Use a spoon to skim off any foam that comes while the chickpeas start to boil (you’ll have to do this a few times). You can toss the foam out in the sink.

Let them boil for 1-2 minutes and then turn the heat down to medium-low or low heat, cover the pot partially and simmer for 35 minutes.

If using canned chickpeas: Pour the can of chickpeas with the juices into a medium pot. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Allow the chickpeas to boil for 1-2 minutes and then turn the heat down to medium-low or low. Cover the pot partially and simmer for about 10 minutes. (You can simmer for 15 minutes if you like your chickpeas softer. I do.)

Bread: While the chickpeas boil, turn your oven or toaster oven’s broiler (top heat only) and set a rack in the top third of the oven. You can prepare the bread in one of two ways:

1. Using kitchen shears, cut the bread into 1.5- to 2-inch squares and place them in a bowl. Toss them with olive oil. Spread the pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet covered in foil or parchment paper. Toast for 3-5 minutes (keep a close eye because you don’t want the bread to burn), stir so that most of the pieces turn over, and toast for another 2-4 minutes.

2. Cut the pita bread into halves or quarters the pita bread. Brush each side of the pita pieces with a light coating of olive oil. Toast for 3-5 minutes (again, keep a close eye because they can burn easily), flip over, and toast for another 2-4 minutes. When you’re ready to serve the dish, you can break the bread into smaller pieces into your serving platter – be sure to keep ¼ of the bread aside to sprinkle on top.

Yogurt-tahini sauce: As noted above, it’s best if your yogurt is at room temperature, so take it out as soon as you start cooking, or up to two hours before.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups full-fat yogurt, 1.5 tablespoons tahini, and half the mashed garlic. I say half, because cloves of garlic vary in size and people have different preferences on how garlicky they like their fatteh.

Add half (¼ teaspoon) the salt – again, for the reasons described above.

Taste the sauce (you can scoop some with a piece of the toasted bread). You’ll probably want to add the other half (¼ teaspoon) of the salt. For the garlic, add it in tiny increments, because its flavor creeps up on you, fast.

To serve: Toast the pine nuts on the same pan that you tasted the bread, so they can get coated in the leftover olive oil. Keep a close eye on them – they won’t need more than 2-4 minutes.

In an 8×8 glass serving dish, put a layer of bread pieces at the bottom. Using a slotted spoon, pile on the chickpeas. Then, take a ladle and pour a ladle-full of broth on top of the bread and chickpeas. Add the yogurt sauce on top.

Top with a sprinkling of pine nuts and small fried bread pieces. Now, over medium-high, heat the butter in a small sauce pan until it develops small brown specks and a strong aroma. Take off from heat and immediately pour the hot butter over the fatteh. Watch out – it’ll sputter when it hits the cold yogurt. Sprinkle the parsley leaves on top and serve immediately.

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