Date Night

Sometimes a recipe will come into your life that you will fall in love with and not be able to live without. I believe I have found the one. Surprisingly, it is not what you may think. No, it’s not a cake or pastry, nothing sweet for that matter. It’s not deep fried or saturated with fat, but actually rather healthy. It’s a salad. However, salad is a very general term which, for many, conjures up thoughts of a slice of anaemic tomato on a semi-wilted lettuce leaf. Don’t worry though, this salad could not be further from that! This salad ain’t no lardy boy. You’re looking at a total and utter stud.

Each person I have made this baby spinach salad with dates and almonds for has been blown away by it, as am I, and continue to be every time I eat it. It’s nice and simple, but it is so much greater than the sum of it’s parts, as the flavours are so perfectly balanced; A bit spicy, a nice tartness from the sumac and lemon, lovely sweet/sour caramel notes from the marinated dates with a savoury hit of onion, the crunch from the fried bread and almonds enriched with a small slick of butter and the crisp baby spinach all work together in perfect harmony! My mouth is watering just thinking of it, for goodness sake!

This little gem is so very tasty, I feel that I could eat it every day and not get sick of it. That’s really saying something, right? I’m not sure I’d want to risk it though. Martina and I eat dinner together every day and like trying different things. I think it’s key to make sure there’s some kind of vegetable or salad with most meals since it’s not only nutritionally beneficial, but the lack of colour on the plate would do my head in. So, at Martina’s suggestion we have decided to have it at least one night a week, and that’s totally fine by me!

Baby spinach salad with dates & almonds – Serves 4

(From ‘Jerusalem’, by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi)

1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

100g pitted medjool dates, quartered lengthways

30g unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 pitas, roughly torn into 4cm pieces

75g whole almonds, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons sumac

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

150g baby spinach, washed

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

salt

Method

Put the vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl, then add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands.

Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain any residual vinegar and discard.

Spinach Salad 1

Meanwhile, heat the butter and half the olive oil in a medium frying pan. Add the pita and almonds and cook them on a medium heat for 4-6 minutes, stirring all the time, until the pita is crunchy and golden brown. Remove from the heat and mix in the sumac, chilli and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Set aside to cool.

Spinach Salad 2

When you are ready to serve, toss the spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large bowl. Add the dates and red onion, remaining olive oil, lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.

Spinach Salad 3

Spinach Salad 4

• The crunchy pita croutons can also be used to top soups as a nice alternative to regular croutons. They will keep for at least a week in an airtight container.

Yotam & Sami suggest serving this salad as a starter to really whet the appetite. I think that would be lovely, however this time I ate it as a main course alongside some chicken I had rubbed with spices, spatchcocked, then roasted on thick wedges of red onion and it was delicious. I kept the legs for the following day then tore the meat off the bone and added it to the rest of the salad, along with the roasted onions. Never have I tasted a salad more intensely moreish!

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