If there is a people that can turn day-old bread into a truly sumptuous feast, it would be the people of the Middle East. Resourcefulness is practically in their genes, as they turn lowly lentils into regal mujaddarah, chickpeas into silky hummus and stale bread into fatteh.
The word “fatteh” in Arabic means “crushed” or “crumbs,” as fatteh transforms dry bread or crumbs into a foundation for rich-tasting casseroles. In this case, day-old pita bread is cut up crouton-sized, then toasted, grilled or fried. This layer of crunchy bread is then covered with other ingredients that vary according to the region, from Egypt to the Levant.
In Egypt, fatteh is prepared to celebrate the birth of a child, or for holidays like Ramadan. Egyptians add the crispy bread to a garlic and vinegar flavored meat soup, served alongside rice and a garlic tomato sauce. In Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, fatteh is served as a breakfast or light dinner. In these countries, the bread is covered with strained yogurt, steamed chickpeas, hummus, fruity extra-virgin olive oil and toasted pine nuts. Sometimes the casserole is topped with lamb cubes braised in clarified butter for an extra-hearty dish. Other times home cooks add roasted eggplant instead of the lamb.
This casserole-style version is the one I grew up eating. One can compare fatteh to a Mexican-style five-layer dip, where pita, yogurt and chickpeas take the place of refried beans, sour cream and tortilla chips for dipping. The varying tastes and textures of fatteh all play a symphony on the palate, with buttery chickpeas, cool and creamy minted yogurt, garlicky hummus, and crunchy and nutty toasted pine nuts and croutons. (Story continues below the video)
If using dried chickpeas, make sure you soak them in water and baking soda overnight first. This is key for making them easier to digest. If using canned chickpeas, you can skip this step. Making your own hummus greatly enhances this dish, but if you are short on time, you can use your favorite store-bought hummus. Although this dish is mostly plant-based, you can use a nondairy, unflavored yogurt for a vegan alternative.
Blanche Shaheen is a food blogger and journalist who lives in Los Altos.
Visit Feast in the Middle East for more recipes and to watch her video demonstration of how to make Fattet Hummus – fatteh is the noun for the dish, fattet the adjective describing what you’ve created.
• 2 8-inch pitas, cut into 1-inch pieces
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 16-ounce can chickpeas, drained, or use 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight with 1 teaspoon baking powder, then drained
• 2-3 cloves whole garlic
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (full fat is best)
• 2 cloves minced garlic
• 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dried mint
• 1/4 teaspoon paprika (optional)
• 1/4 cup pine nuts
• 1 1/2 cups hummus (either store-bought or homemade, see recipe online)
If using dried chickpeas, soak overnight in water with 1 teaspoon baking soda. When ready to prepare, drain chickpeas (either canned or soaked). Add chickpeas to skillet, along with 2-3 cloves whole garlic and 1 teaspoon cumin. Add enough water to cover, let come to boil, then simmer approximately 30 minutes. Drain chickpeas, reserving a bit of water for later.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Toss pita pieces with 1⁄4 cup oil, salt and pepper to taste, and spread on baking sheet in even layer. Bake until golden and crisp, approximately 10 minutes. Put pita croutons in 9-inch-by-9-inch casserole serving dish. Add chickpeas to croutons, and toss with approximately 2 tablespoons chickpea water to infuse cumin and garlic flavor.
Using store-bought hummus or my recipe, dot hummus all over pita and chickpea mixture, then spread gently to cover.
For yogurt sauce, stir yogurt, mint, paprika, minced garlic, salt and pepper in bowl, then drizzle over hummus.
Heat pine nuts in small skillet over medium-high heat. Saute pine nuts until golden brown, approximately 2 minutes. Sprinkle casserole with pine nuts, then drizzle with more olive oil. Serve immediately.
• 15-ounce can chickpeas
• 1/3 cup tahini paste
• 1/3 cup lemon juice, or to taste
• 1 clove garlic, or to taste
• 1 teaspoon cumin
• 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Drain chickpeas, reserving approximately 1/4 cup liquid. Place chickpeas with tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin and salt in food processor and blend until smooth. If hummus is too thick, add some of reserved chickpea liquid until it reaches desired consistency.