Monday, May 26, 2014

Spinach Salad with Bread, Dates and Almonds

When I make a green salad, it almost always looks the same: you've got your lettuce of some sort, toasted sesame or pumpkin seeds, thinly sliced radishes, and a citrusy vinaigrette. Sure, there are some variations beyond that — a handful of blanched asparagus in the spring, a few cubes of buttery avocado or crumbles of blue cheese (depending on what's left over in the fridge), maybe a carrot shaved into curls with a vegetable peeler. But really, it's pretty much the same old leafy template. Which is why it's so nice to find something so entirely different from my usual rut. And so delicious.

This recipe, as most things in the surprisingly-simple-yet-delicious-and-dusted-with-sumac category, comes from Yotam Ottolenghi. Baby spinach leaves, vinegar-pickled onions and sticky-sweet dates, and crisp buttery croutons and toasted almonds. So, so good. The original calls for torn-up pitas (as befits a cookbook called Jerusalem), but I used a freezer-burned ciabatta roll to equally delicious effect. It's a combination I never would have thought of, and it's wonderful.

Of late, I seem to be on a run of kitchen fails (hence my radio silence). There were the morning buns made from a "quick" croissant dough, which was not remotely quick, and after all that work was not even close to being as good as the real thing. There were the asparagus deviled eggs that were far, far more work than their non-asparagus brethren — and didn't really taste that much like asparagus. It's hard to recommend something with a low work-to-return ratio. But this salad? It's a simple salad. And it's different, and delicious, and I can't wait to make it again.

And speaking of surprising Middle Eastern flavors, I recently had the good fortune to spend the day with a visiting delegation of chefs, bakers, and food service folks visiting from Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Oman, as part of the State Department's Diplomatic Culinary Partnership. You can hear more about the delicious exchange, and the larger ideals of gastrodiplomacy, over at NPR.

Spinach Salad with Bread, Dates and Almonds

adapted from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
serves 4 (as a salad, though two people could make a meal of the whole thing)

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
half a dozen Medjool dates, pitted and cut lengthwise into quarters or sixths (depending upon size)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 small stale pitas (or a stale roll), torn into bitze-sized pieces
1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sumac
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
several handfuls baby spinach leaves
juice of 1/2 lemon

Place the sliced onion and dates in a small bowl, and pour the vinegar over the top. Add a pinch of salt and stir. Let marinate for at least 20 minutes, then drain the vinegar.

While the onions are pickling, heat the butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the bread and almonds and cook, stirring regularly, until the bread has toasted to a crunchy golden brown. Remove from the heat, and stir in the sumac, chile flakes, and a hefty pinch salt. Set aside to cool.

To serve, dress the spinach leaves with the remaining olive oil and lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Top with the dates and red onion, and the seasoned bread and almonds. Serve.


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