Friday, April 11, 2008
Sooner Rather Than Seder
Despite not being Jewish, when I was in college I went to a Passover seder almost every year. Most of my friends were Jewish, so it was my good fortune that instead of going home every year they stayed in the city and allowed a goy interloper like myself to join in on their feasting. The other side of that story is of course that when you're the most culinarily inclined person in a group of friends, you tend to be responsible for most of the cooking. That's no matter, since nothing makes me happier than cooking for other people, and taking the lead on a meal usually means you get to choose what gets made and how. Not everyone in attendance wanted traditional fare, not to mention vegetarians and vegans were also often participating. So, things like brisket were sometimes out, but we managed to suit each meal to those that were attending.
We really liked to keep some traditions going while experimenting with other things, like roasting a few Cornish game hens as a main course, while starting the evening off with apples and honey, and ending it with a baked kugel. As I thought about making a few Passover inspired dishes this week, I was reminded of how we'd mixed the old with the new all those years ago. It occurred to me that I could easily make a non-traditional dish with a few ingredients from traditional Passover meals. I decided to create a really lovely salad by deconstructing some of my those traditional dishes, starting (appropriately enough) with charoset, a popular seder starter. Charoset is a fruit and nut spread of apples, almonds or walnuts and sweet red wine, spread over matzo. I figured a lot of those elements would make great well balanced toppings for a spinach salad (my version of bitter herbs), so I went with some nice red apples and walnuts.
The only thing left to figure out was the dressing, which was the most obvious way to work in the red wine. As a bonus, I worked in some honey to echo the apples and honey dish I had back in the day. The salad turned out great, due in large part to the fact that I already knew all of the flavors would meld together well. The spinach was a perfect mellow base for the sweetness of the red apples, red wine and honey, all of which contrasted really nicely with the vinegar, salt and pepper. The walnuts added a nice dose of nuttiness, while some thinly sliced shallots I added at the last minute brought everything together and added a nice savory element to the mix. I'm normally not one to enjoy a green salad, but this one was so good I made myself two additional bowls. Whether or not you're celebrating Passover, I'd definitely recommend starting a meal off with this delicious salad. It's really quick and easy, not to mention every single component is good for you--and how often does that happen?
Spinach, Apple and Walnut Salad With Red Wine-Honey Vinaigrette
4 cups raw baby spinach, rinsed and dried
1 firm red apple, thinly sliced
1 cup walnuts
1 shallot, thinly sliced into half moons
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp red wine (a sweeter wine is best)
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
good quality extra virgin olive oil, the fruitier the better (about 3 Tbsp)
1. Combine all of the salad ingredients in a bowl.
2. Whisk together all of the vinaigrette ingredients except for the oil. Slowly stream in oil until dressing comes together. Pour over the salad. Toss to combine. Enjoy!