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.
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.
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
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.