We eat a lot of salads year round, but in the summer, when we have fresh veggies in the garden we eat them daily. Recently we have become completely addicted to the addition of cranraisins and seasoned sunflower seeds to our salads. We all like croutons in our salads, but so many of the store bought kind are hard and mostly tasteless. The solution?? Make your own! It's easy and fun, and the result is a light crunch that is packed with flavor!

I use different types of bread so that I can utilize what is reasonably priced. Day old bread is perfect for making the croutons, in fact, fresh bread is harder to work with when cutting, and because it's baked until dry and crispy anyway, the day old bread is perfect! Today I used a loaf of Italian bread, but most of the time I use a baguette from a local bakery store. I get a long baguette that is usually priced under $1 and that will make almost 2 gallon sized ziploc bags full!

I cut the bread into cubes, trying to make sure each piece has at least one side of the original crust for added crunch. Melt a stick of butter (adjust the amount for the size loaf you use) and pour over bread, stirring to mix well. Add your preferred spices or herbs. I use dried thyme and dill, paprika, garlic powder, sea salt, old bay seasoning, sesame seeds and fresh ground pepper. You can make your croutons as spicy or plain as you like. I bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Today I forgot I was baking them so they got a bit dark, but since I was using fresh bread instead of day old, the additional baking time didn't hurt them at all. We also prefer then a bit over baked. It just adds a bit more character and crunch. Just don't burn them!

I store them in a ziploc bag. Let them cool completely before storage or they tend to get a bit soft. Because the flavor of these croutons is so powerful, you really only need a few in the salad to make a huge impact on the flavor!

Another favorite way to use these in the summer is to make a fresh tomato salad similar to fatoosh. Fatoosh is a Middle Eastern dish that is so wonderfully delicious. If you have a market that sells this ethnic food, look for a spice called 'zatar'. You will need it to make this salad. I have actually found it in the ethnic food section of my local Kroger store.

In a large bowl, cube fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion. Make a vinaigrette with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, 1 clove crushed garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and a good amount of zatar. Marinate the veggies in this dressing and add in a healthy amount of fresh croutons. Stir all ingredients together to distribute the dressing throughout. The croutons will begin to absorb the dressing and soften just a bit. Oh my!! You are in for a flavor party in your mouth! So fresh and light, you will make it again and again!

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