What: Spicy Beet, Leek, & Walnut Salad
Who: Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
This is another exquisite recipe from Ottolenghi and Tamimi. What makes this salad unique to middle eastern fare is the tamarind water, which finds its way into the dressing. Chile flakes give the heat. And the leek, after being simmered for 10 minutes and then blanched, loses most of it’s slippery quality and becomes sweet while remaining al dente. And there is no boiling of beets here – the beets are roasted in foil for an hour and are, consequently, intensely sweet and perfectly tender. The arugula and walnuts serve as the base flavors to the salad, the cilantro and pomegranate the bright topnotes, finally carried along by the sweet-and-sour of vinegar and tamarind.
A tamarind is an exotic fruit highly prized in South Asia and India which has a delightfully tangy flavor. Apparently, the tamarind – along with walnuts, plums, beets, and pomegranates – is a favorite of the Georgian cuisine in Jerusalem, which was influenced by Russian, Persian, and Turkish cultures. I hail from Ashkenazic (Russian) Jewish heritage, so perhaps this is why these particular foods and flavors (all combined in one dish!) are continually attractive to me.
Sadly, I could not find tamarind water and had no time to purchase tamarind paste to make my own. But, imagine the combined profile of a lemon, a date, and an apricot. This is as close a substitute to the tamarind as you will likely achieve. Therefore, when Ottolenghi and Tamimi called for 2 tablespoons of tamarind water, I used the juice of 1 lemon + 1 tablespoon maple syrup. Had I had date syrup or apricot jam, I would have used either of those. Nonetheless, the dressing was delicious. When I have tamarind paste or water, I will make it again.
The authors also called for walnut oil and peanut oil for the dressing. I had neither, and simply used extra virgin olive oil. Toasted walnut oil would certainly pair beautifully with the beet.