06 June 2010

Spiced Cherry, Chickpea and Asparagus Salad

There are great things about the boom in the food blogging world, where you can find just about anything from recipes for whole camel to this fantastic guy on barbeque. But the flaws are poorly tested recipes with unclear directions. I recently was reading a recipe for a traditional Lebanese cake (sfoof), which claimed the cake could be made with only molasses as a sweetener. Carob molasses, or molasses made from carob pods, is traditional sweetener in the region, and it sounded plausible that this could be an old school version of the cake. Now, I should have known better, since I've had some of the carob drinks served across the Middle East and carob is very, very bitter. But I went ahead anyway, and let me tell you my friends, when a cake batter tastes bad, you know you have a problem on your hands.

This all brings me to the point that all of the recipes here are tested at least once, and usually twice before they make it on this site. I cook many, many things at home that don't make it onto this site for a variety of reasons. But the reason I often double test things is not just to ensure consistency, but also because I usually have a specific idea in mind, and it may take quite a bit of tinkering to get it right. Take this salad, I had an idea for a salad with cherries and ricotta salata and chickpeas. I knew it needed some more elements though, so I tried several things, frying up the chickpeas in spices, adding chopped arugula and mint, but it still was lackluster. First, the ricotta salata ha to be crumbled into fairly large chunks to stand up to the other ingredients. Second, the cherries needed some more oomph so they got a quick soak in some brandy (bourbon would work nicely too). And finally, the green needed to be more substantial, so I went with asparagus tips, which are in season with the cherries. A balsamic glaze was the final touch, and after about 16 experiments with this salad we were done. Luckily all were tasty enough that we didn't mind eating them.

Spiced Cherry, Chickpea and Asparagus Salad
It seems like a lot of elements, but really this doesn't take that much time. The worst part is pitting the cherries.

tips from 2 bunches of asparagus
2 pints of cherries, stemmed, pitted, and halved
2 tablespoons brandy or bourbon
1 1/2 cups of cooked chickpeas
1 teaspoon seven spice mix
olive oil
1 cup ricotta salata in large chunks
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
some chopped chives or mint for garnish, optional

1. Prep the cherries, place in a bowl and toss with the brandy. Set aside to soak.
2. In a skillet, place a very shallow amount of water. Bring to a boil, add the asparagus and cover and let steam for a few minutes, until green and crisp tender. Sprinkle with sat and set aside.
3. Wipe out the skillet and heat a generous amount of olive oil in it. Add the seven spice mix and a small sprinkling of salt, stirring to combine, and then add the chickpeas. Cook over medium-high heat until the chickpeas are coated in the spices and lightly browned. Set aside.
4. Place balsamic vinegar and honey in a very small saucepan, let simmer until the mixture is thick and syrupy.
5. Layer the asparagus, chickpeas, cherries, and ricotta salata in a serving dish. Drizzle the balsamic over top. You may want to put it through a quick turn in the microwave to make sure everything is a little warm. Scatter mint and chives over top if desired. Serve.