“I want to feel really good after I eat,” Frank Stitt says. “I have always tried to work in a way to concentrate flavor without adding lots of extra fat. I’ve always used vegetables — our Southern vegetables of the season — as a dominant player.”
When the chef first opened his elegant, relaxed restaurant, Highlands Bar and Grill, in Birmingham, Ala., in 1982, sourcing first-rate ingredients was near impossible. Nevertheless, Stitt persisted, as lowering his standard was out of the question. Fast-forward more than three decades and his pioneering efforts have exceeded expectations. The chef, widely considered the godfather of elevated Southern cuisine, has opened three additional restaurants (Bottega, Bottega Cafe and Chez Fonfon) and penned two cookbooks. What is more, his work as an advocate for farmers markets and as a mentor to aspiring chefs has had ripple effects across the South and, indeed, the country.
In the kitchen, Stitt’s hand is restrained so the focus stays on the ingredients. Bitter greens and fresh herbs are the big players in this vibrant sandwich that also stars radish slivers, cucumber slices, yogurt, walnuts and feta — all held together by a floppy, griddled piece of whole-wheat lavash, basically a Middle Eastern flatbread. “My wife happens to be Persian and a vegetarian,” he says, “and that has influenced me. This sandwich is a take on the Persian breakfast and all its flavors.”
Watercress, Cucumber and Feta Sandwiches (Persian Piadine)
2 pieces of whole-wheat lavash or other flatbread
1 teaspoon plus ½ tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons plain fat-free yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped mint, plus 8 mint leaves, torn or roughly chopped
1 heaping cup watercress leaves
4 to 5 basil leaves, torn or roughly chopped
2 dill sprigs, torn or roughly chopped
1 teaspoon snipped chives
2 scallions, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
2 radishes, thinly sliced
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
4 walnut halves, toasted and coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
Whisk together the yogurt, chopped mint and teaspoon oil in a small bowl and set yogurt dressing aside.
In a large bowl, toss the watercress, torn basil leaves, dill sprigs, chives, scallions, cucumber, radishes, feta cheese and walnuts together with ½ tablespoon olive oil and lemon juice, to taste. Season salad with salt.
Lay the lavash on baking tray and toast bread on the center rack until warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
To serve, mound the salad on one side of the warm bread and drizzle with the yogurt sauce. Fold the bread over the salad and slice the sandwiches in half on the bias. Serve immediately.
Kitty Greenwald is a Brooklyn-based food writer and recipe developer. She eats a lot for work and pleasure. Her column Slow Food Fast appears in the Wall Street Journal.
Recipe excerpted from Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2008. Photograph by Christopher Hirsheimer.