While exploring Atlantic Avenue’s Middle Eastern shops and restaurants, I kept coming back to my favorite Middle Eastern salad: the fatoosh salad. The highlight of the fatoosh salad is always the crunchy, golden browned crumbly pita bits, which liven up the greens and other vegetables. Really, it is the pita that makes the salad.
This salad, adapted from the excellent Jerusalem cookbook, from which many of our Middle Eastern recipes are derived, is certainly not a fatoosh. But it incorporates crunchy, golden brown pita bits so well, it is even better: the crunchy pita combines with the crispness of baby spinach, the sweetness of Medjool dates, with some quick-pickled red onions for a little bite. Medjool dates, native to the Middle East and North Africa, are the largest dates, with a sweet richness that sets them apart from other, smaller, inferior dates.
Serve this salad as a starter, whetting the appetite for some moghrabieh soup or lamb stuffed eggplants for a far-from-the- ordinary Levantine feast. Or just whip this salad together for a quick weeknight supper.
Baby Spinach Salad with Dates & Almonds
- ⅓ lb baby spinach leaves
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- ½ medium red onion
- ¼ pound pitted Medjool dates find these at Sahadis
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 small pita about ¼ pound worth
- ½ cup unsalted roasted almonds
- 2 tsp sumac also at Sahadis
- pinch of chili flakes to taste
- 2 tbsp lemon juice from 1 lemon
Do your prep: thinly slice the red onion, quarter the dates lengthwise, coarsely chop the almonds, roughly tear the pita into 1½ inch pieces, and rinse and dry the spinach.
Put the vinegar, sliced onion, and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well. Let marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes, while you make the rest of the dish.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and 1 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam but does not turn brown, add the pita and almonds, and cook for 4-6 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pita is crunchy and golden brown, but not burnt. Remove to a bowl and mix in the sumac and chili flakes, along with a pinch of salt. Allow to cool to room temperature.
When the onion-dates mixture has finished marinating and the pita-almond mix has cooled, you are ready to serve. Toss the spinach with the pita mixture in a large mixing bowl. Add the dates and red onions, discarding the vinegar (or use it to make a sweet vinaigrette for another dish). Add the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil, lemon juice, and some salt. Mix well, taste for seasoning, and serve.