If you’re anything like me, you might not even read this post. Salads are boring. I would rather read about homemade funnel cakes or head-to-head comparisons of D.C.’s doughnuts. Salads, on the other hand, are mainly leaves. I find most salads are barely interesting enough to eat, let alone read about, and certainly not to write about. There are exceptions, of course, like when I was really excited to tell you about Smitten Kitchen’s kale salad. In that case, I needed to tell the world that I had real, hard proof that kale is edible (a fact I’d previously disputed). I didn’t think I would ever be so inspired by another homemade salad, but here I am, staying up late just to tell you about a salad so delicious, so interesting, and so satisfying that it made Ed drop the f-bomb.
Like me, my friend Rachel is generally unimpressed by salads. She and I have had a lot of lunches together and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her eat a salad. I’ve definitely seen her walk right past a Chop’t and head straight for a cheese steak food truck many times, though (and I’m right there with her). Rachel loves good food and she’s always recommending and swapping recipes with her friends. A couple of months ago, she set up a Facebook group where people can share great dishes with each other. Last Sunday, I saw that she had posted a salad to the group page. I found that very odd, but intriguing. It turns out that the salad was one of Lottie and Doof’s favorite recipes from 2012. Tim, the site’s author, is the man who gave us sprinkle cookies–so he is a very trusted source. I trust Rachel even more than Tim, so I immediately starting thinking about making the salad.
The next day, Rachel told me in person about the salad. She acknowledged that it takes one heck of a salad to impress her and she *never* thought she’d like a salad that didn’t have cheese. I asked her about the ingredients. Dates and red onions? The big fresh Medjool dates they sell at Whole Foods are sort of quick-pickled with slices of red onion in white wine vinegar. Strange sounding, but it worked, she said. Pita pieces? Fried in a lot of butter and oil until they are just starting to crisp. Delicious. Sumac? She didn’t remember that sumac was in the salad, but thought it probably added something special. No salad dressing? There is no vinaigrette, but you get acid from the onions and dates that were soaked in vinegar and you toss the composed salad with oil and lemon juice, so it seems like there’s a light dressing. I was sold.
I stopped at the store on the way home and picked up everything I needed. Like all salads, there was a lot of prep, but it was all much more interesting than my standard tomato-cucumber-green pepper-carrot blend. While the dates and onions sit together in vinegar for twenty minutes, you fry pita bread pieces with roasted unsalted almonds. The toasty, roasty, buttery smell is even more enticing than you’d expect. It takes a while to crisp the pita (longer than the 6 minutes Lottie and Doof suggests) and while the bread is drying out and getting flavorful, the almonds toast to a deep brown. You then stir the warm pita mix with sumac, salt, and pepper flakes. Once the pita and almonds cooled, I tossed them with the baby spinach, then tossed in the dates and onions, then the olive oil, and finally lemon juice and salt. By the end, the spinach was covered in spice and subtly coated with a perfect balance of oil and acid.
I was so enjoying making this salad that I failed to time it with the rest of our meal. Ed cooked us perfect burgers that were done about 20 minutes before I finished the salad. We decided to eat the burgers while the pita chips cooled. Feeling a bit full after our burgers, we served ourselves a little salad. I started eating in the kitchen and immediately heaped more on my plate. Ed sat down and asked a couple polite questions. “Is that a fig?” He asked of the dates. “Almonds look nice.” He took a few bites and started making approving noises. Before long, we were both telling each other how awesome the salad was. There are sweet, savory, and spicy flavors. The pita and almonds bring two different kinds of crunch–the former delicate and the latter quite loud. The onions might be the most pleasant surprise. The vinegar softens them and turns some of their bite into a less aggressive tanginess, but they still pack a punch. Just when you think the onions have taken over, the butter-toasted almond flavor comes up and mellows things out. The dates add the right note of sweetness. The effect of the vinegar on the dates and onions was to turn those two divas into choir singers. Untempered by the vinegar, either the dates or the onions could have overwhelmed the salad, but after a quick acid dip, they became team players. Baby spinach is the only leaf that could work here. Anything less hearty would wilt under such heavy bowlmates. Anything more hearty would require too much chewing (I’m looking at you, kale). “Are you going to put this on the blog?” Ed asked in a tone that suggested that I put it on the blog right away. “That is a f@#%ing good salad,” he said. I agree.
You can find the recipe on Lottie and Doof.