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!

I don’t think you’re ready for this belly

‘Cause this belly’s just too delicious for ya babe.

This is one cut of meat that really can’t do any wrong. Firstly, it’s incredibly economical. Why? Because it’s kind of fatty. But that’s okay since it’s the fat that keeps the meat so meltingly tender when cooked low and slow, and that is what we want! Besides you’re not under any obligation to eat the fat if you don’t want to. No contract to sign here. Let it do it’s thing in the oven, then send it packing and what you will be left with is a mountain of tender, juicy meat. Another perk of belly pork is that it also comes fully equipped with an earth shatteringly crunchy layer of crackling if cooked correctly, but that’s pretty easy to accomplish and I’ll show you how.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Fennel & Coriander Seed Crackling

(Serves 4-6, depending on the size of your piece of pork)

3 teaspoons (1 Tablespoon) coriander seeds

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1 nice thick piece of pork belly, skin scored

Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat your oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

Put the coriander and fennel seeds into a mortar and grind together with the pestle until crushed. It doesn’t have to be ground to a very fine powder though, just pound it enough to release the nice aromas from the spices.

Belly Pork 1

If you haven’t already had the meat scored by your butcher you can do it easily yourself so long as you have a very sharp knife. Stanley knives work well here, but just be careful not to cut through the meat itself. The aim is to make long cuts only through the skin as this helps with the crackling, makes it easier to break into pieces at the end and means the spices can cling more readily to the surface which simply adds to the flavour! Rub the skin with salt, pepper and a little more than half of the cracked seeds, getting the seasoning right into all the cracks.

Scatter the remaining seeds into a roasting tin and put the meat on top. Put into the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 180C/Gas Mark 4 and cook for about 1 1/2 hours, until the juices run clear when the meat is pierced with a skewer and the skin has crackled to a beautiful golden brown. The reason for initially cooking it at such a high temperature is to give the crackling a good kick start, but if you don’t think it has crisped up enough at the end of the total cooking time, then just bang up the heat again and put the pork back in, checking it every few minutes until it has crisped up properly.

Leave to rest, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or so.

Remove the crackling from the pork before carving, then cut the joint into thick slices and break the crackling up into portions.

Belly Pork 2

I served the belly pork with some plain brown jasmine rice and a nice fresh shredded salad of beetroot, red cabbage, red onion, toasted cashew nuts and coriander and dressed it with a mixture of rice vinegar, a little soya sauce, mirin, finely chopped red chilli, sesame oil, sugar and a small pinch of salt. This shredded salad (or ‘slaw’, if you will) provided a lovely crunchy, zingy contrast to the rich pork which was most welcomed.

Belly Pork 3 Salad

Belly Pork 4 Salad

 

Belly pork is also wonderfully versatile, so can be served in lots of different ways. With rice, as I have done here, but even more classically, with mashed potatoes, apple sauce and steamed greens or cabbage.

The deciding factor though, is that even Destiny’s Child agree with me about how good this is. Let me refresh your memory.. “Spotted me a tender thang“, “Lookin’ hot, Smellin’ good“?! They’re talking about PORK! And all that talk about ‘jelly‘? Well, that’s just fat. Obvs.

Either way, it is just too good to not give it a whirl. Go on, do it for Beyoncé.

They were right you know, I don’t think I can handle how tasty this is. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!