Is it just me, or is the dinner party on its way to becoming extinct? Since we do so much entertaining at our house, it was a pleasure to be invited over to some friend’s house recently for a meal. Frank and John treated us to prime rib, a cauliflower gratin, and (the star of the show for me) a spinach salad with dates and almonds. I was most delighted that our hosts were all too happy to supply us with this marvelous salad recipe (and the leftovers). I was not surprised that the recipe came from Yotam Ottolenghi’s recent cookbook, “Jerusalem”. I should have known: his name was practically written all over it. I love his style of cooking and I love this salad. It was too good not to share.
I am a bit ashamed to say that this cookbook has been out for a few years, but has been sitting on my shelf for some time (I’ve been known to binge on buying cookbooks, and they sometimes end up on the shelf for a while before I can dive into them). I discovered Ottolenghi a few years ago. His restaurants and shops are extremely popular across the pond, but he is not as familiar on the west coast of America as he should be. His food is fresh and modern with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and grains. His food is healthy as well as tasty. Yotam Ottolenghi and his business partner Sami Tamimi were both born in Jerusalem. Yotam is from the Jewish west side and Sami is from the Arab east side. Jerusalem is a melting pot, and the diversity of this fascinating city is evident in its cuisine. At the risk of this post sounding like a book review (which it isn’t) if you haven’t picked up any of Ottolenghi’s books you need to have a look. With all that said let’s get back to the salad.
One of the things I like about this salad is that it is very light and refreshing. There isn’t any dressing on it except for a little olive oil and lemon, and that is all it needs! I have made it a couple time using dates, but I have also substituted golden raisins (I love dates, but raisins work well if you can’t find any fresh firm dates). This salad is easy to make, and you can do most of the work ahead of time. Since there is not much dressing to speak of, the spinach doesn’t wilt, and the salad is almost as good the next day (if you don’t mind chewy replacing crunchy in the fried pita chips). In making this salad, I discovered two new tastes: Aleppo chile and sumac. Although the book did not specify what kind of chile to use, I know that Aleppo chilies are Sami Tamimi’s favorite and I can see why. They are not as hot as red chili flakes and contain no seeds. The color and flavor are striking. Since you will probably need to go to the Middle Eastern store for some sumac, you might as well pick up some Aleppo chili while you are there. I also fell in love with sumac. Sumac has a delightful tart lemony flavor. It is good on anything that you would use lemon on which, in my book, is almost anything. You can find sumac in some high-end grocery stores, but it will cost you more than it should. I got a one-pound bag at the Middle Eastern grocery store for $3.99. One other tip/variation I have tried is substituting sliced almonds (that I almost always have on hand) for the chopped whole unsalted almonds that are in the original recipe. If you do substitute make sure to cut out some salt somewhere else to make up for the added salt from the sliced almonds.
Baby Spinach Date and Almond Salad
(Adapted from the book Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- ½ medium red onion, sliced thinly
- 3½ oz. pitted dates, quartered lengthwise (or substitute golden raisins)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1½ pitas roughly torn into bite size pieces
- ½ cup whole unsalted almonds, roughly chopped
- 2 teaspoons sumac
- ½-teaspoon Aleppo chili flakes
- 5 ounces Baby spinach leaves
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon
- Put the onions and dates (or raisins) in a bowl with the wine vinegar and a pinch of salt and set aside. Heat the butter and one tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and begin browning the pita pieces. Stir constantly so they do not burn. After about a minute, add the almonds to the pitas to toast for about 5 minutes. Once the pitas and almonds are browned and crisp, remove from the heat and add the sumac and the Aleppo chili. Toss well and place the pita mixture in a bowl to cool. When you are ready to serve, place the spinach, pita chips, and onion and dates together in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with the other tablespoon of olive oil and the lemon juice and toss. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately.
I know I said I wasn’t going to be reviewing the book, but I went on a roll last week and made 3 other dishes from the cookbook. All of them were great! Here are a few pictures from our Jerusalem dinner.
If you like this salad (and I think you will) look for “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi or pick up one of their other books, “Ottolenghi”, “Plenty”, and “Plenty More”.