ottolenghi and tamimi's baby spinach salad with dates + almonds (or, the best salad ever)

I’ve always gravitated toward Middle-Eastern cooking. A lot of the region’s staples happen to be vegetarian and I’m familiar with the food, having lived and travelled throughout the area. Of course what really keeps me coming back to the recipes is the taste. 
When we lived in Brooklyn I was a regular at Tanoreen, perhaps one of the best restaurants in the city and worth the shlep to Bay Ridge on the R train. If you haven't been to Tanoreen, Rawia Bisharah's beloved and ever-popular restaurant, you're missing out on the most delicious Middle-Eastern (in this case Palestinian) food this side of the Atlantic. 

When I want to make Middle-Eastern food at home, since I no longer live within a train ride of Tanoreen, I grab Jerusalem. It has amazing recipes and mouth-watering photos. And on a personal note, I find the connection between Ottolenghi (who's from the Jewish part of Jerusalem) and Tamimi (who's from the Palestinian part of Jerusalem) to be a source of inspiration in a place where it’s sometimes hard to find areas of commonality, let alone a deep friendship.

I wanted to keep things a bit light last week, so when I spotted this recipe for Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds I knew it would be perfect. The ingredients are straightforward and I had everything on hand except sumac, which is a wonderful spice with a kind of tart flavor. So the sumac hunt began…
It was kind of disappointing. I told Otis and Theodore, "We're going on a special treasure hunt. Doesn't that sound like fun?" At first they looked excited, but after making three separate stops and coming up empty-handed they were loosing 

It was after 6 p.m. so the good spice shops in town were already closed. I picked up my phone and called another “specialty market” and was transferred to bulk. I asked, “Hey, do you guys have sumac at your Colfax location?” The lady on the other end said, “Hold on, I’ll check.” I was put on hold for about 10 minutes. Then a voice at the other end of the phone said, “You probably meant Turmeric. Yes we do.” Sigh. (If I wanted Turmeric I would have asked for it…)

As if coming out of a fog, I said to myself, “What on Earth are you doing? You know where to get really great Middle-Eastern food and spices. Get with it girl…” So we drove to Aurora (a suburb of Denver with a large immigrant community and awesome food), made our way to S. Parker road where Arash Market was waiting for us with open doors. And there it was, hanging on a wall surrounded by lots of other spices, a little packet of sumac.

Baby Spinach Salad with Dates + Almonds
(Courtesy of Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi) 
Yields 4 to 6 servings
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 1/2 ounces dates (100 grams), preferably Medjool, pitted and quartered lengthwise (add more if you're so inclined)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (30 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 small pitas (about 3 1/2 ounces, or 100 grams), roughly torn into 1 1/2 -inch pieces
1/2 cup whole unsalted almonds (75 grams), coarsely chopped (I used slivered almonds and added them to the pan with the pita for about 1 minute.)
2 teaspoons sumac
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
5 to 6 ounces baby spinach leaves (150 grams)
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. (It didn't have any residual liquid.)

  • ·      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.

springtime baseball and roasted broccoli & fennel salad with pickled onion vinaigrette

After a few late season snowstorms, spring has (finally) arrived in Denver. Outdoor festivals are popping up all over the city, patio-dining is in full-swing and our garden is starting to take off (I know, right, we have a garden!). And if all that isn't springy enough, baseball season has begun in earnest.   
I had never been to Coors Field and I really wanted to check it out. We also thought it was time to take Otis and Theo to their first baseball game, so my husband got on Stubhub and purchased four $6 tickets (how great is that?!). Then we made our way over to the stadium to watch our hometown team (the NY Yankees) play our adopted city's team (the Colorado Rockies). I was feeling conflicted, and I wasn't sure which team to root for...

My mom grew up on the Grand Concourse, just a few blocks away from Yankee stadium. My maternal grandfather was also a Yankee fan, as was my Bronx-born father, my Bronx-born husband and my Manhattan-born father-in-law (who has rooted for the Yankees ever since San Francisco stole the the NY Giants back in 1957 ). And then there's me. I'm a from a little oasis in NYC, in the borough of The Bronx, called Riverdale. So you could say that there's some history when it comes to this Yankee stuff.
But a weird thing happened at the game last week; I began to see Yankee baseball as harbinger for our life's new path. Many of the Yankees I had cheered on from the bleachers were on the disabled list or retiring from the sport altogether. And that's when it hit me. Maybe it's time for a new team and some new traditions-- or at the very least, Otis and Theo should be encouraged to cheer on their (new) hometown team, who on that night, beat the Yankees 2-0. 

We've been eating a lot of our meals outdoors this week, and it's truly wonderful. In desperate need of more side dishes, I scoured my newly-borrowed-from-the-Denver-Public-Library cookbook for some ideas. I started off with this one for Roasted Broccoli and Fennel Salad with Picked Onion Vinaigrette. It was nutty and tangy and just plain delicious! The side dish went fast...
Roasted Broccoli & Fennel Salad with Pickled Onion Vinaigrette (From Family Table Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home by Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner, forward by Danny Meyers)
For the vinaigrette
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion


2 heads of broccoli (1 1/2-2 pounds total), cut into bite-sized florets, stems trimmed and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (I cut smaller slices)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
To Make the Vinaigrette: Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add the onion and whisk well. Set aside.

In a small bowl, toss the broccoli with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Put the fennel in another small bowl and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Season both with salt and pepper and spread on to separate baking sheets. Roast the broccoli until lightly browned and tender,  15 to 20 minutes. Roast the fennel until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Combine the vegetables and herbs in a serving bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

* Note: If you find that the dish is a little bit too vinegary, then just add a few pinches of sugar to balance it all out. 

Serve with a Side of Dreidel: Non-Traditional Latkes (Leek and Cardamom Fritters)

I love holidays that are celebrated with lights and food. Around this time of year there are plenty of holidays that fit that bill. There's St. Lucia Day in Sweden, Kwanzaa, Christmas and Chaunkah (or Hanukkah), to name a few. I'm focusing on Chanukah here.
The holiday commemorates the triumph of Judah the Maccabee over the King Antiochus in the 2nd Century BCE. Hooray for the revolutionaries! There was also a little miracle that happened in the Temple. A small amount of oil miraculously burned for 8 days (yes, that's one long lasting flame). To commemorate this surprising event, latkes are served because the oil in which they are fried is symbolic of the aforementioned miracle. Latkes, in modern tradition, are made of grated potatoes, but historically they were made with whatever local ingredients were around-- vegetables, legumes, etc. I decided to try some non-traditional latkes this year, opting for Leek and Cardamom Fritters. I figure that since they are pan fried in olive oil, they are still very much in the spirit of Chanukah. They are shallow little pancakes that contain flour and egg- which is similar to the traditional potato latke. I think these work well for the holiday.
The recipe is a Mark Bittman adaptation of a Yotam Ottolenghi dish. It was printed in The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Special thanks to my friend Richard who sent me the link and to Melissa who sent me the hard copy of this recipe.
Happy holidays! 
Leek-and-Cardamom Fritters (Courtesy of Mark Bittman, New York Times Magazine, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi)
Yield: 4 servings (about 8 large fritters)
About 2/3 cup olive oil
3 leeks, thickly sliced
5 shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 fresh red chili (like Thai), seeded and sliced
1 cup fresh parsley (leaves and fine stems), finely chopped
2/3 cup fresh cilantro (leaves and fine stems), finely chopped
2 to 3 ounces manouri cheese, broken into large chunks (or drained ricotta cheese or young goat cheese)
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg white
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 whole egg
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Lemon wedges for serving.
1. Heat the oven to 200. Put 1⁄3 cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the leeks and shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, cardamom and cinnamon and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Transfer the onion mixture to a large bowl and add the chili, parsley, cilantro, manouri and salt. Allow to cool, then stir gently.
2. Beat the egg white until soft peaks form, and fold it into the onions. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, whole egg, milk and butter to form a smooth batter. Gently fold it into the onion mixture.
3. Put 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, ladle four spoonfuls (about half of the batter) into the pan to make four large fritters. Fry them until golden and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels, then transfer to a platter in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more of the oil as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature, with lemon wedges.

Ottolenghi's Green Pancakes with Lime Butter

I've been slowly cooking my way through Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi. I posted his garlic harissa soup and chard and saffron omelette.  And I'm a really big fan of his cauliflower-cumin fritters with lime yogurt, which comes from the eponymous Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.  
This recipe for Green Pancakes with Lime Butter (from Plenty)  was another recipe I really liked. It's perfect for an adult brunch (the flavor is a bit too strong for the kids-- or at least mine).  
Now, that being said, I can't imagine how you could possibly use 2 green chiles in these pancakes without burning out your taste buds. I admire those who can take on some heat, but since I was serving this in the morning I didn't want my friends to get such an intense wake-up call. So I used 1 chile instead of 2. 
The recipe didn't specify what type of 'green chiles' to use, so I went with serrano since I've used it in cooking before. (I vacillated between serrano and jalapeño.) It's possible that you could use 2 chiles that are more mild, but since I'm not an expert on peppers, I went with something I know.
The lime butter is delicious and it has a wonderful flavor that cooled the pancake's heat. Scrumptious! I had A LOT of leftover butter, so I guess you can make less to start. Or you smother your vegetables in the leftover lime butter. It's pretty darn delicious. 
Oh Yotam, I do like your dishes. Any chance you'll open up an eatery state-side?  
Green Pancakes with Lime Butter (Courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty
Serves 3-4
Lime butter
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Grated zest of 1 lime
1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 tsp chile flakes
1/2 lb (about 8 cups) spinach, washed
3/4 cup self-rising flour 
1 tbsp baking powder
1 egg
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
2/3 cup milk
6 medium green onions, finely sliced
2 fresh green chiles, thinly sliced (I went with 1)
1 egg white
Olive oil for frying
To make the lime butter. Put the butter in a medium bowl and beat it with a wooden spoon until it turns soft and creamy. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Tip onto a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a sausage shape. Twist the ends of the wrap to seal the flavored butter. Chill until firm.
Wilt the spinach in a pan with a splash of water. Drain in a sieve and, when cool, squeeze hard with your hands to remove as much moisture as possible. Roughly chop and put aside.
Put the flour, baking powder, whole egg, melted butter, salt, cumin and milk in a large mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the green onions, chiles and spinach and mix with a fork. Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and gently fold it into the batter.
Pour a small amount of olive oil into a heavy frying pan and place on medium-high heat. For each pancake, ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the pan and press down gently. You should get smallish pancakes, about 3 inches in diameter and 3/8 inch thick. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until you get a good golden-green color. Transfer to paper towels and keep warm. Continue making pancakes, adding oil to the pan as needed, until the batter is used up.
To serve, pile up three warm pancakes per person and place a slice of flavored butter on top to melt.

Locomotives and Roasted Beets with Chiles, Ginger, Yogurt and Indian Spices

Eight months ago I didn't have a clue who Thomas the Tank Engine was. Well, that's not true.  We got a fabulous Thomas Starter Set when our first son was born, but we hadn't used it yet.  I didn't realize the mania surrounding the little blue engine who adorns hundreds of books and DVD covers.  Now I hear about Thomas all the time.  Our eldest son (Otis) is Thomas obsessed.  
That's not necessarily a bad thing.  He has a few Thomas-themed items and I think they have had a very positive impact on his daily activities.  Otis can assemble semi-sophisticated train tracks with a quickness and he's learned many letters of the alphabet thanks, in part, to one of his Thomas books.  We decided it was time to go to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden so he could see some real engines. We saw all sorts of engines that were part of the state's railroad history, spanning many decades.  There were also tender cars, box cars, gondola cars and hopper cars.  I think you get the picture...While Otis spent his first year and a half of life riding the NYC subway, since our move West he hasn't been on any trains.  You can imagine then, how unbelievably excited he was to learn that we were going to be riding the Georgetown Loop Railroad in historic Georgetown, Colorado during Big Horn Sheep Festival.  The train ride, which was just over an hour in duration, took us up the rail line that used to transport silver from the local mining towns.  We were given a good deal of historic information on the ride, but Otis was oblivious.  He couldn't stop staring out the window and waiting for the sound of the train whistle to blow.  "Chew-chewy," he would say. Here are a few shots taken from the window of the train car... (and yes, that is Otis's favorite Thomas book in hand.) As for Baby Theodore?  He slept through the whole ride.  

* * * 
And now for roasted beets...
I've often salivated while reading Melissa Clark's recipes in The New York Times.  I've heard her talk on the radio about food, cooking and baking.  She's my kinda girl.  She cooks food that really appeals to me and I like what she has to say about time spent in the kitchen.  Other people like what she has to say too-- she has published several books and has a regular feature (A Good Appetite) in the paper.  How is it then that I've never actually made any of her dishes?  I'm not sure.
Anyway, this is the first recipe of hers that I've actually made.  It has some unusual combinations and I like the texture of the pomegranates here, which are 'optional' and really shouldn't be. I thought the use of jalapeno was nice too.  Usually I tend to pair beets with flavors that are more mild.  It's nice to change things up a bit! 
One caveat:  it took me A LOT longer than 30 minutes to roast the beets.  It was more like 1 hour.  And the beets really need to be quite tender for this dish to be successful.   
This vibrant, colorful, spicy little beet salad is a great addition to any meal.  
Roasted Beets With Chiles, Ginger, Yogurt and Indian Spices (Courtesy of Melissa Clark, New York Times)
Yields 2-3 servings
1 3/4 pounds beets; a mix of red, yellow and chiogga is nice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
Pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 fat garlic clove, finely chopped
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon lime juice, more to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Pomegranate seeds for garnish, optional.
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Peel the beets and cut into 1-inch chunks. Toss with the oil and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, (took me over an hour) tossing occasionally, then sprinkle with mustard seeds, coriander and cumin and roast until the beets are tender, about 15 minutes more.
2. While the beets roast, prepare the dressing: using the side of a knife or mortar and pestle, mash the garlic with a pinch of salt until it forms a paste. Place yogurt in a bowl; whisk in garlic paste, jalapeño, ginger, 1/4 teaspoon salt and lime juice. Whisk in the cilantro.
3. Scrape the warm beets into a large bowl. Stir in the dressing and pomegranate seeds, if using. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.