Ultimate Winter Salad with Apples, Quick-Pickled Fennel, Shallots + Dates, Za’atar-Toasted Almonds + Honey Cider Vinaigrette

I’m a leafy green crunch fiend. I crave a salad a day and if I ignore this need for too long I freak out. Even in winter when my overall intake of raw veg takes a dip, I still need my daily fix but switch it up with more seasonal ingredients. Balanced combinations of flavors and textures are my thing: sweet and savory, salty, bitter, crisp, acidic, crunchy, and chewy. Everybody get in the bowl. In my winter salad playground this week I hit upon a new favorite that’s sure to be in heavy rotation around here during the colder months. It’s pretty much got it all — naturally sweet apples and dates, zingy quick-pickled fennel and shallots, crisp-tender leafy greens, refreshingly bitter radicchio and endive, and crunchy toasted almonds seasoned with za’atar – a fragrant and beguiling Middle Eastern spice blend that includes lemony sumac and sesame seeds. To highlight all this goodness I dressed the salad with a bright honey and apple cider vinegar dressing that’s basically my house vinaigrette. This is a bowl of green goodness to make for yourself or for a crowd – everyone loves it! This salad also likes to be transformed into a heartier one-bowl meal – just add a grilled protein of your choice.

The idea for quick-pickling shallots and dates is based on the spinach salad in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, a source for oh so many good things, in which dates and thinly sliced red onion are pickled in white wine vinegar before being added to the salad. I first tasted this salad during a yoga retreat a couple of years ago and the combination was an instant favorite. The dates plump up and take on a slight tang from the vinegar, and the red onion slivers become tender and pliable and lose just enough of their bite. I am not a fan of raw onion in most salads, but after marinating they become almost a different vegetable. I decided to try a similar technique with thinly sliced shallot and fennel bulb, marinating them in fruity raw apple cider vinegar with a pinch of salt.

Back to that house vinaigrette, which is super versatile and goes with everything. I do not remember the last time I purchased prepared salad dressing — maybe sometime during my undergrad years in the late ’90s when low-fat diets were still all the rage? The majority of bottled dressings contain low-quality oils (e.g. canola) and other questionable ingredients, and I don’t have time for that! With a bottle of good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil and your favorite vinegar (or citrus) on hand you are 90% of the way to a delicious homemade vinaigrette. I like to add raw honey and Dijon mustard for flavor and as emulsifying agents that create a creamier dressing compared with just oil and vinegar.

To emulsify the dressing just shake it up for minute or so in a small jar. Double (or triple) the recipe and you’ll have vinaigrette ready to go for a couple of days. If you really want to get crazy get an everlasting dressing jar going by preparing about 1/2 cup of vinaigrette and then adding to it as needed so the jar is never empty. (This is also a great use for almost-empty honey jars.) Having delicious homemade salad dressing on hand is the best strategy for eating more salads. Crunch away!

Ultimate Winter Salad with Apples, Quick-Pickled Fennel, Shallots + Dates, Za’atar-Toasted Almonds + Honey Cider Vinaigrette
Serves 4

for the salad:
2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
1/4 fennel bulb, base/core removed, thinly sliced
1 small shallot, peeled and thinly sliced into rings about 1/8-inch thick
4 medjool dates, pitted and sliced into quarters
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups mixed leafy greens of your choice, sliced into 1/2-inch ribbons (I used red leaf and green leaf lettuces this time; escarole, arugula, baby kale and/or spinach would also be great)
1 cup radicchio leaves, thinly sliced
1 endive, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 apple, halved, cored and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons thinly slices chives

for the za’atar-toasted almonds
1 teaspoon ghee, butter or olive oil
1/3 cup sliced, blanched almonds
1/2 teaspoon za’atar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

for the honey cider vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons raw honey
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Pour 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar into a medium bowl. Add fennel, shallot, and dates and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss gently and allow the mixture to marinate for 20 minutes. Drain off and discard any excess liquid.

While the shallots and fennel marinate make the almonds and vinaigrette. For the almonds, heat ghee in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and, stirring often, cook until golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. (Watch closely as they can go from golden to burnt rather quickly!). Stir in za’atar and salt to evenly coat almonds. Transfer to a plate to cool.

In a small jar (half pint or so) or bowl combine 3 tablespoons cider vinegar, honey, dijon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Shake (or stir) vigorously to dissolve honey. Add olive oil and shake again until creamy and emulsified. Taste and add more salt if needed.

When ready to serve, in a large bowl combine marinated shallots, fennel, and dates, leafy greens, radicchio, endive, and apple slices. Add vinaigrette and toss to combine. Garnish with almonds and chives and serve immediately.

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