Torn Croutons

1-pound loaf day-old country or sourdough bread
1?3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, as needed

Heat oven to 400 degrees. For more teeth-friendly croutons, remove the crusts from the bread, then cut the loaf into inch-thick slices. Cut each slice into inch-wide strips. Working over a large bowl, tear each strip into inch-size pieces. Alternatively, you can tear croutons directly off the loaf, as long as you get somewhat evenly sized pieces.

Toss croutons with olive oil to coat them evenly, then spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Use a second sheet as needed to prevent crowding, which will entrap steam and keep the croutons from browning.

Toast croutons for about 18 to 22 minutes, checking them after 8 minutes. Rotate the pans, switch their oven positions, and use a metal spatula to turn and rotate the croutons so that they brown evenly. Once they begin to brown, check them every few minutes, continuing to turn and rotate. Some croutons might be done when others still need a few more minutes of baking, so remove them from the tray and let the rest finish cooking. Bake the croutons until they’re golden brown and crunchy on the outside, with just a tiny bit of chew on the inside.

Taste a crouton and adjust the seasoning with a light sprinkling of salt if needed. Let croutons cool in a single layer on the baking sheet. Use immediately or keep in an airtight container for up to 2 days. To refresh stale croutons, bake for 3 to 4 minutes at 400 degrees.

Tip
To make classic torn croutons, stir 2 cloves finely grated or pounded garlic into the olive oil before dressing the croutons. Toss with 1 tablespoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes before toasting. To make cheesy torn croutons, toss the torn bread with the olive oil, then add 3 ounces (about 1 cup) very finely grated Parmesan and lots of coarsely ground black pepper to the bowl, and toss until combined. Toast as directed above.

Mast-o-Khiar (Persian Cucumber-Yogurt Salad)

1/4 cup black or golden raisins
3 Persian cucumbers (about 1/2 pound)
24 ounces Greek yogurt or labneh (3 cups)
2 tablespoons any combination of finely chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, basil, tarragon or dill
1 garlic clove, finely grated or pounded into a smooth paste with a pinch of salt
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground or crumbled dried rose petals (optional)
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon dried dill
3 tablespoons roughly chopped toasted walnut pieces

In a small bowl, submerge the raisins in boiling water to plump for 10 minutes, then drain well.

Remove alternating stripes of peel on cucumbers and trim ends. Dice cucumbers into 1/4-inch pieces and place in a large bowl with raisins, yogurt, fresh herbs, garlic, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and, if using, half the rose petals. Using your fingers to break up any large pieces, gently grind the dried mint and dried dill into the bowl. Stir to combine and adjust seasoning with salt as needed.

Just before serving, stir in the walnuts and transfer to serving bowl. Garnish with remaining rose petals, if using. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.

Salad-e Shirazi (Persian Cucumber, Tomato and Onion Salad)

3 to 4 Persian cucumbers (about 3/4 pound)
1/2 red onion, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons any combination of finely chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, basil or dill
1 teaspoon dried mint
2 to 3 medium tomatoes (about 1 pound)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes), plus more as needed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and black

Remove alternating stripes of peel on cucumbers and trim ends. Dice cucumbers into 1/4-inch pieces and place in a large bowl with onion and fresh herbs. Using your fingers to break up any large pieces, gently grind the dried mint into the bowl. Remove tomato cores, dice remaining tomatoes into 1/4-inch pieces and add to bowl.

In a small bowl, make a vinaigrette by whisking together 1/4 cup lime juice, oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Just before serving, dress vegetables with vinaigrette and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and lime juice as needed. This salad should be bright, crunchy and tart, a nice counterpoint for rich, buttery rice and unctuous stews. Serve at room temperature or lightly chilled. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 2 days.