Baby Spinach Salad with Dates, Almonds and Crispy Pita

 

Sometime last August I received an email from the Atlas produce company in Bakersfield, California, asking if I would like to sample some of their Caramel Naturel date products* and possibly feature them on my blog.  They must have already known how much we totally love dates here at the Circle B Kitchen, so, of course, I said sure!  Send ‘em!

And then Dad was rushed to the hospital and our two-surgery/6-week hospital saga began.  The box arrived, but I never even had a chance to open it until last week.  To my joy I found a container of beautiful Medjool dates and 3 containers of some lusciously delicious almond and coconut date rolls that we’ve totally been enjoying.  

Coincidentally, I had this spinach salad from the new “Jerusalem” cookbook flagged to make and it seemed the perfect vehicle to showcase these gorgeous dates, and boy howdy, was I ever right about that!  This is without a doubt one of the best salads I’ve eaten in a very long time, and we make lots of salads around here.  The flavors are middle-eastern, but nothing so exotic that it’s out of reach for a weeknight throwdown.  

We’ve got all of the bases covered here… sweet, salty, sour, and numerous textural components to make this salad seem much more sophisticated than its simple, even humble assemblage. 

The only element of this recipe you might not find in your cooking arsenal might be the sumac.  Me too.  But I did have z’atar, which is a middle-eastern seasoning mix made mostly of sumac, so it was a great substitution.  Ground sumac is found in a lot of middle eastern recipes and has a lemon-y, pungent sort of flavor, totally awesome with the dates, pita and almonds.  Most stores have started carrying it.  If you can’t find it, z’atar might be easier to locate.  Or there’s always good ol’ Penzeys online!

The other substitution I made was a direct result of not having pita bread on hand for the salad.  But I did have pita chips, and honestly, I can’t imagine that pita bread could possibly have been better.  The pita chips stay crunchy in the salad and still take on the flavors of the dressing.  

So with my apologies to the Atlas produce company for taking so long to showcase their beautiful dates, I hope we’ve more than made up for the time lapse with this beautiful salad that I can’t wait to make again.  Here’s the recipe…

BABY SPINACH SALAD WITH DATES AND ALMONDS

For a printable recipe, click here

Adapted from "Jerusalem" by Yotam Ottolenghi

This is one of the tastiest, most flavorful salads we’ve had in a long time.  There’s a bit of everything in here…sweet, salty, sour, crunchy and chewy, and it all comes together in perfect balance.  The recipe calls for sumac, which I didn’t have on hand, so substituted zatar seasoning, which is most made from sumac.  It was delicious!  The other substitution I made was not having any pita bread in the house, I substituted pita chips, and they worked great.  Enjoy!

Note:  If using pita chips instead of pita bread, I browned the almonds first before adding the pita chips to the pan.

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 1/2 ounces Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
Salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 small pitas, roughly torn into 1 1/2 -inch pieces (Or several handfuls of pita chips, slightly crushed)
1/2 cup whole unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sumac (or Z'atar seasoning)
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
5 to 6 ounces baby spinach leaves 
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain any residual vinegar and discard.

Meanwhile, heat butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add pita and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring all the time, until pita is golden. Add almonds and continue cooking until pita is crunchy and browned and almonds are toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and mix in sumac, chile flakes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool.

When ready to serve, toss spinach leaves with pita mix in a large mixing bowl. Add dates and red onion, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.

*If you'd like more information on the date coconut rolls or date almond rolls, click on the links or click here for recipes and a list of other products.  They'd make great holiday gifts!

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