When we were younger we all thought fattah was the word for Ramadan. At the time, we didn’t understand exactly why we couldn’t eat or drink but we absolutely knew that if there was fattah on that table, it was Ramadan. One of our younger sisters actually used to call the dish Ramadan – but we won’t name and shame!
Our family is large. There’s 13 of us in total: one boy (the eldest), 10 girls, and our amazing parents. Fattah was always teamwork. When we were growing up, it used to involve lots of our sisters in the production. Some of us would be assigned to doing the dishes and setting the table, the rest of us were responsible for making the fattah.
There were so many elements and layers to the dish, so everyone had their special area of responsibility in putting it together. One for the seasoning of the yoghurt. One for the perfect boiling of the chickpeas. One for the slow, buttery oven-baking of the bread. Then there’s our favourite role – the one we all used to fight over – toasting the nuts in butter, lots of butter (fat is flavour). They have to be ready to pour over the dish one minute before the Adan – the call to our magrib prayer at sunset and time for us to break our fast.
Our older brother helped set the table but then he’d be first to sit down while we were putting together the finishing touches. We all thought he was spoilt but making this dish is such fun, we can’t really say we drew the short straw.
We serve the fattah while the butter is still sizzling and as a starter after we’ve broken our fast and lined our stomachs with water and dates.
There are so many variations of fattah across our families and the entire Middle East. Some cooks use eggplant. Some do it with chicken. Others prefer it with spiced lamb mince. And there are the adventurous cooks that do it with slow-cooked lamb tongues.
The Shahrouk sisters’ family favourite is with chickpeas, served with fresh mint and red radish. The idea is to serve cold, garlicky, minted yoghurt on top of warm, crunchy, toasted bread and hot boiled chickpeas. It’s like a family signature dish – and something we made on Family Food Fight. It’s our mother’s recipe tweaked with toasted garlic for added texture and flavour.
Our parents were born in a village in the north of Lebanon and our mother Shamma came out to Australia at 16, escaping the civil war to marry our dad. In so many ways, she was really thrown in the deep end. So far away from her own parents at what now seems such a young age, she had to teach herself to cook. At 16, she knew nothing about cooking and relied on her new mother-in-law (our grandmother Tayta) and neighbours. There were lots of people who all came from the village my parents came from, which made it a bit easier. They all knew each other and they sort of created a new village to support each other.
Our mother also learned a lot from our father, Hassan, who loves cooking and also played a role in teaching us how to cook. He makes a killer baba ganoush and he taught us a lot about meat and how to choose and cook greens.
Being in the kitchen together was always noisy, boisterous and fun and we are so grateful that they passed their love of food and the intricacies and expertise of traditional Lebanese cooking on to us. It really is a shared family passion that says a lot about who we are and how much we enjoy being together.
Although fattah is primarily made in the month of Ramadan, we also present it for special Sunday breakfasts throughout the year. The only thing that has really changed is that we are now all grown women, married with our own households and families, so we are each one-woman teams – unless we assign roles to our own children!
Cook 40 minutes (plus an overnight soak of the chickpeas)
200g chickpeas (soaked overnight)
4 pieces Lebanese bread
50g (4 tbsp) butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
500g Greek yoghurt
3 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp dried mint
1/4 tsp salt
50g pine nuts
50g halved almonds
50g slivered almonds
1 tsp paprika, to serve
4 radishes, finely sliced to serve
Fresh mint, to serve
Garlic croutons, optional, to serve
To prepare the chickpeas: soak dried chickpeas overnight. The next day, bring them to the boil and simmer for approximately 40 minutes until they are slightly soft, but still nice and firm. (Not squishy like you would do for hummus.)
As the chickpeas simmer, cut the bread into 2 cm squares. Mix the butter and oil, toss the bread in the oils to lightly coat the pieces, then place on an oven tray, bake at 180C degrees and toast slowly. Flip the bread every 2-3 minutes to cook evenly. With the bread, “the slower cooked the better and crunchier”. It usually takes about 20-25 minutes, turning frequently.
In a mixing bowl, add yoghurt, garlic, dried mint and salt and mix well.
To bring it all together, lay the toasted bread at the bottom of a tray, drain the chickpeas and layer on top of the bread. Top with the yoghurt mix.
Finally, in a saucepan, melt a generous amount of butter, add nuts and toast to a golden colour. Drizzle the sizzling nuts and butter on top of the bread and chickpeas. Add a sprinkle of paprika.
Serve immediately – with radishes and fresh mint on the side for added crunch, freshness and zing. Garlic croutons are an optional extra for further crunch.
The Shahrouk sisters – Halla, Houda, Leeann and Rouba – were the winners of the first series of Channel Nine’s Family Food Fight in 2017. You can watch a video of them preparing this dish here, and follow their cooking adventures on Instagram.