Happy Monday everybody! How was your weekend?
It was a scorcher here in London, and I celebrated by doing rather a lot of unhealthy eating. From tequila and tacos on Friday night and burgers, fries and ice cream on Saturday, to a Sunday BBQ lunch with lots of drinks (hey, we were celebrating Andy Murray
finally winning Wimbledon, okay?), I’ve been indulging maybe a wee bit too much these days.
Ironically, all that classic summertime food isn’t really what I like to be eating when the mercury rises. As a cold-blooded Canadian girl, I generally don’t love extreme heat, and nothing zaps my appetite faster than humidity and soaring temperatures. So when my sister stayed over last night and I offered to cook for her and my flatmate, I wanted to make a dish that we’d all enjoy in the heat, and would feel like something of a detox after my weekend of immoderation.
This salad comes from my favourite food writer, Yotam Ottolenghi, and his business partner Sami Tamimi, the authors of last year’s acclaimed homage to Middle Eastern cuisine, Jeruasalem. This is one of my favourite books to cook from these days, full of fresh and inspiring flavour combinations.
This salad was one of the first things I made from Jerusalem. The fresh spinach, sweet chewy dates, and crunchy, spicy almonds are a surprising blend (my sister claimed to be skeptical at first glance), but they balance each other perfectly. I love all those ingredients as a rule, but I think I think my favourite element is the pitta bread crutons, made by gently frying torn-up pitta in olive oil and spices. A few minutes of work adds a whole lot of flavour and texture to this salad, and since discovering this trick, I’ve been adding these “crutons” to just about anything I can.
I altered the original recipe by a minimum, cutting down on the dates a little (the fresher they are, the more they’ll stretch in this recipe) and making it vegan by replacing some butter with olive oil. Give it a try, and let me know how you get on. Personally, I’m hoping for more sweltering days just so I can make this again (and again, and again).
Spinach, Almond and Date Salad
adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
85g pitted dates, quartered lengthwise
1 Tbsp white or red wine vinegar
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
2 small pittas, torn
75g almonds, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground sumac
1/2 tsp chili flakes
150g baby spinach, washed and dried
juice of half a lemon
- Prepare the onion and dates, and place in a small bowl. Pour over the vinegar and a pinch of sea salt, and toss gently with your fingers. Allow to marinate for at least 20 minutes, as the dates absorb the liquid and the vinegar takes the bite out of the onions.
- Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the pittas and the chopped almonds, and cook, stirring frequently, for 4-6 minutes, until both are browned and aromatic. Add the sumac, chili flakes and another good pinch of salt, stir for another 30 seconds or so, then remove to cool.
- Toss together the spinach and lemon juice in a big bowl or platter, then add the date mixture (plus any vinegar still in the bowl) and most of the crutons. Toss again, taste, and add more olive oil or salt if necessary. Arrange the remaining crutons on top of the salad, and serve.
All images © Eleanor Büsing