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Stale pita finds purpose in fattoush

Faced with a critical mass of good-quality — but days-old — bread, I make croutons.

Just a toss in olive oil, salt and herbs, then an hour or so in a low temperature oven transforms cubes of lackluster carbs into the crunchy, savory, salty foundation of special salads. Because these croutons — conscientiously crafted — deserve better than being scattered as an afterthought over any old greens.

Such croutons are the raison d’être behind frisee with bacon, a poached egg and warm vinaigrette. In summertime, make that panzanella with fresh tomatoes, cucumber and basil. New to me was the Levantine take known as fattoush.

I’d always liked the notion of, essentially, pita chips bulking up a green salad with lots of fresh herbs and lemon juice. But I’d never wanted to buy bagged pita chips for the recipe, nor dedicate perfectly good flatbread to this thrifty extender of stale leftovers.

Then my son declined a piece of flatbread with a recent dinner during which he weathered an upset stomach. I figured I’d leave his piece to stay warm in the oven — switched off — until someone else at the table wanted it.

But I forgot the flatbread for hours, pulling it from the oven only when it was so dry and crisp that it almost shattered. That’s when I knew the next day’s lunch was fattoush.

There’s no need to follow this recipe to the letter. Instead of chopping romaine, I chopped Belgian endive and radicchio. Because I had lovely, sweet clementines, I tossed in their segments instead of cucumber. And for cooked chicken, I swapped leftover roasted salmon.

My dressing also included a tablespoon of white miso to intensify the savory notes, tone down tahini’s earthiness and cut back on added salt.

Tribune News Service photo

Fattoush With Chicken and Tahini-Sumac Dressing

1 English (seedless) cucumber, quartered lengthwise then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch chunks

Kosher salt and black pepper, as needed

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 8-inch pita breads, each split into 2 rounds

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

8 teaspoons ground sumac

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)

3 cups shredded cooked chicken

1 romaine heart, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces

2 cups lightly packed fresh mint or flat-leaf parsley or a combination, roughly chopped

Heat oven to 400 F with rack in middle position.

In a colander set in a large bowl, toss the cucumber with 1 teaspoon salt, set aside.

In a large serving bowl, stir together the lemon juice and onion. Let stand while the pita toasts.

Meanwhile, on a rimmed baking sheet, brush both sides of pita rounds with 2 tablespoons of the oil, then sprinkle evenly with 2 teaspoons of the sumac. Bake in preheated oven until browned and crisp, for about 10 minutes total, flipping once halfway through. Cool to room temperature, then break into bite-size pieces.

To bowl with onion, add remaining 4 tablespoons oil, remaining 6 teaspoons sumac, the tahini, honey, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir until well combined. Add the chicken and toss to coat.

Add the romaine, mint, cucumber (discard liquid) and pita; toss to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

— Recipe from “Milk Street: Tuesday Nights Mediterranean” by Christopher Kimball.