Sunday, December 4, 2011

Since the King James Bible

I was caramelizing onions in the kitchen one week when I realized that there was a huge, gaping hole in my blog. There was a salad; a salad that had been bugging me since Passover and I still hadn't figured it out well enough to post about it. What salad, you may ask. THE salad. The Passover salad. The spinach and caramelized onion salad. The "tastes-like-steak/best-thing-done-by-committee-since-the-King-James-Bible" salad. Let me explain. No, there's too much. Let me sum up.
One of the many Passover traditions in my parents house is this-on the last night of Passover, after we've eaten way too many amazingly gluttonous meals, we go light. We eat salad and fish and matzoh brie. (Granted, that's not so light, but relative to what we spend the rest of the week eating, its light). So on the last night of Passover this past year, we shooed my mom out of the kitchen, and we second generation cooks went to work. I busied myself with Jamie Oliver's Trout with Horseradish, Creme fraiche and Potatoes (which is wonderful, let me tell you, but not the subject of this post), while my sister, sister in law, and non-biological kinda sister huddled up to make the salad. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them caramelizing onions and washing spinach. They toasted some pine nuts and sliced tomatoes. Some sort of vinaigrette was whipped together. We sat down to eat.
"Tastes like steak", my brother said, his mouth full of spinach. My father, a bit more eloquent, deemed it the best thing done by committee since the King James Bible. The salad was, simply put, out of this world. The caramelized onions had sort of melted and sunk into the slightly wilted spinach, lending a sweetness, and yet, at the same time bringing out the rich, iron, meatiness of the greens.  The tomatoes were a bright compliment, as tomatoes would be on a steak sandwich, and the pine nuts gave it all a woodsy tinge. And coating it all was a perfectly paired vinaigrette, highlighting every flavor.
It was excellent, and also, it seems, utterly unreproduceable. For reasons unknown to anybody, nobody wrote down the recipe after the holiday. So, as I embarked on the project of writing about the salad for the blog, I was thwarted by quite a large roadblock. I consulted my sister, my sister in law and non-biological kinda sister. They remembered the ingredients of the salad-spinach, caramelized onions, tomatoes and pine nuts- but not one of them could remember what went into that vinaigrette. The only ingredient identified was balsamic vinegar. Everything else was a blank.
So here is a challenge for you, dear readers and friends. Let's find this vinaigrette. This is what I know about it. It contained balsamic vinegar. When I tried to reproduce the salad in my own I used a simple vinaigrette of balsamic, olive oil, a drop of brown sugar, salt and pepper, but that was not it either. So, maybe no olive oil, or maybe I just got the proportions wrong. Also, because it was Passover, there are a number of things we can rule out- being Ashkenazi Jews, we don't use any soy sauce, mustard or corn oil-so none of those either. Possibly there was honey. Maybe walnut oil was involved. I just don't know. You experiment and I'll experiment and somehow we'll get it. Great food is like great art, you'll know when you see it. Write to me, or even better, leave a comment and let me know what you come up with. The best thing done by a committee since the King James Bible deserves a recipe.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Caramelized Onions, Tomatoes and Pine Nuts (with mystery vinaigrette)

1 bunch of spinach, washed, dried, etc etc
olive oil
salt, pepper
2-3 onions, halved and thinly sliced
A nice, red tomato, sliced
A handful, or so of pine nuts.
mystery vinaigrette

1. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet, or frying pan over medium heat. Put the pine nuts in the hot pan, and toast, shaking the pan occasionally. Keep an eye on them as pine nuts go from nicely toasted to burnt in the blink of an eye. Once brown, remove from pan and set aside.

2. Add a few glugs of olive oil to the pan. When it the oil is warm add the onions and turn the heat down to medium low, or low. Season with salt and pepper, give the onions a good stir and then walk away. Slice the tomatoes. Think about the vinaigrette. Put away your groceries. Have a cup of coffee. Read the newspaper. Make vinaigrette. Have a peak at the onions. Give em a stir. Walk away again. Take a shower. Do some work. Put the spinach in a serving bowl.  Caramelizing onions is an exercise in patience. When the onions are soft and golden and melty,(this may take up to 45 minutes) remove from heat and immediately scatter over the spinach.

3. Place the tomatoes over the spinach and onions and drizzle a bit of vinaigrette over the salad. Taste, adding more vinaigrette as needed. Top with toasted pine nuts.


  1. welcome back. i am sure your sister in law can come up with a plan even though she might not remember the original. cant wait to try the salad but i am one of those that needs an entire recipe, so i will wait for the epiphany.(no pun intended but couldnt resist with the title of the salad)

  2. I suppose I'll have to urge my sister in law to start experimenting, though she has been quite busy lately, what with her five children, doctorate to finish and household to run.
    I'm sure you can contribute. What do you usually put on spinach salad?

  3. Caramelized Onion Vinaigrette

    1 Cup balsamic vinegar

    ½ Cup olive oil (divided)

    2 to 2½ Cups water
    ¼ Cup brown sugar or honey
    ½ Medium onion (thinly sliced)
    ½ Cup raisins
    ½ Cup walnuts (coarsely chopped)
    ¾ Teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
    Fresh ground pepper (to taste)
    1 Cup feta or tofu (crumbled)

    boil ingredients with 1/2 cf oil and without the cheese. it should turn syrupy. this sounded good. maybe with some garlic. of course you have the onions already so leave those out. found it on an organic site.

  4. vegetable oil (not olive oil)
    balsalmic vinegar
    crushed garlic clove

    The ketchup and balsalmic vinegar give a sweet flavor but not cloying. I think a more tasteless oil (therefore not olive oil) would be better.