I don’t really have a “tip” this week, and actually I failed pretty hard at this challenge: I had to toss some cheddar cheese and a few tortillas I’d completely forgotten about which got moldy while I was traveling 🙁
Instead of a tip, I did a full-on reboot of something I ate in London that should have been much tastier than it was. I was at a place I’ve eaten at several times and loved everything from, and when I saw the list of ingredients I just had to have this: grains, spinach, celery, squash, hemp seeds, chives, pomegranate dressing, labneh — wow. What a combination. I’d never have come up with it and I knew instantly it would be wonderful…and then I bought it and it was honestly only so-so.
But I just knew it could be fixed.
I love grain salads, especially to take for lunch with me, but they often have the problem this one did: they tend to absorb dressing over time and get pretty bland. In recreating this salad, therefore, I took a multi-pronged approach to giving this the oomph that ingredient list deserved.
First, I replaced the spinach with tiny pieces of lacinato kale. That’s not a must-do; not everyone loves raw kale in salads as much as I do 🙂 But it instantly gave the dish more texture. Then, I paid more attention to the butternut squash component. A bit of sweet roasted squash was wonderful, but I thought it would be better with a lot of salt and pepper so any mouthful with squash in it would really pop with salt/sweet/spice. The dressing was really the key change: I just did not feel that anything called “pomegranate dressing” should be boring. I looked up some recipes and found that most of them involved pomegranate molasses. I couldn’t find it in my local stores, but you can buy it online if you have the same problem. It’s also possible to make a close substitute by boiling down pomegranate juice, but, uh, no. Or, if and only if you have really really good balsamic vinegar, the kind that’s a heavy sweet syrup rather than a harsh vinegar, you can substitute that, which is what I did. I also added a little bit of honey, along with the olive oil, and I think it worked well, though I’d like to give it another shot with the pomegranate molasses. Basically, the dressing needs to be sweet and strong enough to stand up to the grains; I made this much stronger than I usually make salad dressings and next time I might do even more.
Labneh, if you’re not familiar with it, is basically a thickened yogurt that you make by putting regular yogurt in cheesecloth and letting it drain for 24 hours or so. Greek yogurt is just fine as a substitute, seriously, don’t kill yourself here.
The one thing the London salad did better than I did was that they used unhulled hemp seeds, which were totally fabulous. They were nutty and crunchy and just fantastic and I could have eaten an entire bowlful. I couldn’t find them in the store, so I used hulled ones and they were good but not nearly as good; no crunch! Much less flavor pop. Of course it turns out I could have bought them online.
The middle eastern ingredients — pomegranate molasses and labneh — made me think I should add some sumac, which I had hanging around my spice drawer, and I did, and liked it. But at the end of the day, I still thought the salad had even more room for extra flavor; this version was much better than the first, but next time, I’ll either add pomegranate seeds (for a sweeter version) or tiny cubes of aged goat cheese (again, taking off from the middle eastern flavors.)
If you want to make this as a side salad, it would be very good — skip the grains and just do everything else. Recipe at the bottom of the post.
I’m taking a cue from Kristin at Believe in a Budget and posting photos of my shopping this week! Two of them, since I hit the grocery stores and the farmer’s market on different days.
(bulk) Spelt, $1.84
(bulk) Hemp seeds, $2.30
(bulk) Flax seed, $.12
4 oz chevre, $3.99
(bulk) pumpkin seeds, $1.90
Cereal, $4.99 (not pictured)
Total with tax, $20.36
Lacinato kale, $3
Chives (in a pot), $2.50
I don’t know how that cereal got in there — or rather, I do. I was shopping hungry at the end of the workday. Terrible idea! I rarely eat cereal because it’s so expensive and not that filling. Sigh.
Grand Total: $53.04 ($42.07 of actual food)
Grain Salad with Middle Eastern Accents
Back-engineered and adapted pretty heavily from a salad I ate at the London Review Cake Shop.
I really winged it on amounts here; honestly don’t really know how much I used of everything. I’d say about 1/4 cup of dried grains and 1 rib of celery per serving; my 2.5 lb squash, large bundle of kale, and six celery ribs, plus my best guess at the right amount of grains and hemp seeds from the bulk bin, got me five lunch-sized servings.
Grains (such as spelt, farro, wheat berries, etc, or a mixture)
Butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2″ dice (err on the small side for the dice)
Celery, cut into small dice (go for about 1/4″ though don’t stress about it)
Hemp seeds, preferably unhulled, which were hard for me to find but can be ordered; alternately you can use hulled hemp seeds, which you can buy from bulk bins to save $$, but they’re not as good in this; they don’t crunch properly.)
Very fresh lacinato kale or spinach, chopped small
Fresh chives, snipped small [honestly, I’m not sure I can taste these; optional]
Olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses, salt, pepper
I’d also recommend pomegranate seeds or cubes of aged goat cheese and, if you like the taste, sumac.
1) Install air conditioning in your kitchen, or move to Australia, because it was a terrible idea for me to make this on the hottest, muggiest day of the year so far.
2) Cook the grains in plenty of salted water, then drain.
3) Toss the squash in olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper; spread out onto two baking sheets; roast at 375 for about 30 minutes, tossing them every ten minutes. (Meanwhile, dice the celery and spinach/kale.)
4) When both grains and squash have cooled to room temperature (do not rush this; you don’t want to accidentally cook your other ingredients) put them in a big bowl with the celery, kale/spinach, hemp seeds, chives, and, if using, pomegranate seeds or cheese. In a jar, shake up a mixture that’s about 2 parts olive oil to one part balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses, and add a little honey to taste. You’re going for something pretty strong and sticky — it needs to be assertive to stand up to the blandness of the grains. If you’re skipping the grains and using everything else as a side salad, you can probably back off a bit on the vinegar/honey.
5) Toss the salad with dressing as close to serving time as possible. Serve with a dollop of labneh or greek yogurt on the side (with sumac scattered on top if you like). Makes a great companion to quiche (the one I had in England had asparagus and peas in it.)