Almond, Medjool date and ewe’s cheese salad

Almond, ewe's cheese & date salad

You know when deserts bloom for a day when infrequent rains sweep majestically over the sands every few years? Green shoots explode out of the arid ground, flowers unfurling to the storm clouds. You’ve seen the BBC nature programmes too? Good. That’s like my approach to BBQ in the British “summer”.

Once the sun appears and temperatures climb, I can fire up our reliable little kettle BBQ in a matter of minutes (once I’ve scrubbed away months of grime from the grill). Slap on some sausages, halloumi and aubergines and I’m all set. And then I’ll make something like this salad, it’s a cracker of an accompaniment.

There’s a balance and poise to the flavours that have come to associate with Yottam Ottolenghi, from whose new book Plenty this has been adapted. The main difference is the increased herbiness of his version. I prefer mine to be a little lighter in flavour.

The Medjool dates are what really makes this. These pockets of deeply sweet and sticky (almost obscene) dark flesh add a whole other layer to the crisp salady flavours. They transform it from a palate cleanser to a dish in its own right.

The cheese was a revelation for me. I have long looked at all the cheeses-in-a-tin lining the shelves of our local Turkish grocer with interest. What would they be like? Mild and tasty, like a light goats cheese, with a delightfully crumbly texture, it turns out. And because the tin holds the brine, you can use a little and save the rest without it going sour.

I liked it so much, it became the whole meal. But it would go so well with some BBQed chorizo sausages or Sucuk (Turkish spiced beef sausages). The sweet, nutty tangy taste would provide a great contrast to the heavy, spicy and smoky meat flavours that dominate those densely meaty packages. Add some pitta and grilled veg and you’re in for a treat.

The salad
Serves 2 as a light main, 4 as sides

It’s worth trying to find the more esoteric ingredients for this: the pomegranate molasses, the Turkish ewe’s milk cheese and the Medjool dates. They really add a lot to it and provide just the right flavour, strength and balance.

Good substitutes would be: balsamic (use half the amount and squeeze a little lemon in too), feta (use slightly less and crumble it finer) and regular dates (use slightly more).

The pomegranate molasses I find in Turkish grocers and should be available where ever you can get Middle Easters, Turkish or North African ingredients. I suspect this will be the hardest to source. It has a slightly sweet, tangy taste which cuts through the creamy nuts and sweet dates.

The ingredients

150g (ish) rocket and chard (or other summery soft leaves)
A handfull of almonds
Approx 150g of soft Turkish ewe’s milk cheese
6 Medjool dates
2 tblsp pomegranate molasses
3 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper

Roughly chop the almonds so that some remain whole, but most are sliced into two or three parts. Deseed the dates and chop each into half, and each half into five or six pieces. Break the cheese into rough lumps.

Measure out the olive oil and pomegranate molasses into a small jar, screw the lid on and shake like mad to combine.

Build up the salad by putting some of the leaves on the plate, then some almonds, date slices and cheese. Then sprinkle over some dressing and grind over a little black pepper. Repeat until you have used up the ingredients.

12 Responses to “Almond, Medjool date and ewe’s cheese salad”

  1. shayma

    Oh my god- i *love* this- Ottolenghi never cease to amaze me and your adaptation is spot on. what a great salad- shall share this with my godmother who is always looking for new and innovative salads. perhaps i should give her the ottolenghi book as a gift…

  2. The Grubworm

    @Shayma Thanks! Both Plenty and the original Ottolenghi cookbook are well worth a look, they make great pressies – I’ve got for my mum and she loved it.

  3. The Grubworm

    @Lindsay – it’s perfect salad cheese, more gentle and crumbly than feta with a light tangy taste. Wouldn’t be the sort of thing to eat with bread, but in a salad like this with the dates – mmm-mmmmm

  4. The London Foodie

    Very interesting salad and combination of ingredients – it is a shame we don’t use more pomegranate molasses in the West, i love it added to fried chicken livers (learnt from Kano’s blog A Syrian Foodie in London). Got Plenty a couple of weeks ago but have not yet gone through it properly. Thanks for the recipe.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  5. The Grubworm

    @The London Foodie – Ooh that’s a good idea to add it to the livers, i had something similar in Yalla Yalla and it was delicious. I love the combo of tangy molasses, sticky sweet dates and creamy nuts.

  6. ginandcrumpets

    This sounds and looks so delicious. I love medjool dates and could get through boxes of them in one sitting, no problem (I have a slightly sweet tooth). Sa;ads are BBQs normally get left behind to wilt sadly, but I bet this one doesn’t sit around too much.

  7. The Grubworm

    @ginandcrumpets – why is it that people always leave salads… Always happens and it’s a shame. There was a Turkish place near me that used to sell 1kg boxes of Medjool dates for £7, we went through over a box a week then. Those were the halycon days. Sadly, haven’t seen those boxes for a year now.

  8. Helen

    This is a lovely little recipe. I am making a salad with medjool dates in it as soon as possible. Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. The Grubworm

    @Helen – it is! I really like the unsung recipes that Ottolenghi creates, and this is one of them. So simple. So delicious. It’s the perfect antidote to a day or two of over indulgence.

  10. Ren

    I’ve got everything except the cheese.Here is Rome I think the nearest I can find is what is called ‘quark’from the health food shops or primo sale? Will have a try!Love the idea of the Mdjook as well.Yum! I sent your link to my daughter who lives in London and is a foody too.

  11. The Grubworm

    @Ren I reckon you could do this with a young and crumbly pecorino, or any other young sheep’s milk cheese. I’m glad you like the idea! You could also do it with goats milk cheese and figs…

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