Fennel and feta with pomegranate seeds and sumac

March 18, 2012 § 17 Comments

Hope springs eternal every March: it’s plant-buying season and I am a perennial sucker for the lush herb plants at the farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and nurseries that then mysteriously fail to thrive in my little garden. Inevitably I spend so much time nursing the plants back to life that I barely get to use any of them. This year, though, if they’re not going to survive a hot Maryland summer I might as well enjoy them now whilst I can.

So, yesterday’s lunch was the inaugural herb garden meal, a refreshing salad from my much-flagged copy of Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi. Chef/owners of the popular London chain, you may have heard of them via Yotam Ottolenghi’s second cookbook, Plenty — which is similarly flagged so as to resemble a paper hedgehog.

Known for their inventive vegetable recipes, I find that especially in the late-winter doldrums the recipes in Ottolenghi always cheer me up. As my parsley plant seems to be doing well (note that I’ve only had it in my care for three days), a bit of it was pruned off the top to go into a lovely, refreshing fennel and feta salad with pomegranate seeds and sumac.

When thinly sliced, raw fennel is delightful in salads, serving as a crunchy base, with tarragon paired alongside as its more herbal note. Salty feta and parsley get along famously, and the vibrant pomegranate seeds pop juicily when bitten. Tying it all together is a vinaigrette made from olive oil, lemon juice, and sumac, the latter of which echoes the acidic brightness of the lemon juice with its own citrusy warmth.

The salad is a study in contrasts; the sweet, nutty black sesame seeds pop next to the pale luminosity of the fennel, the verdant greens of the herbs tangling around the glossy red pomegranate seeds. Gorgeous both in looks and in taste, full of zingy flavors inspired by the Mediterranean and the Middle East, this salad is perfect for bidding farewell to winter while welcoming in spring.

Fennel and feta with pomegranate seeds and sumac

Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

Serves two as a main course, four as a side salad

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pomegranate to yield about one cup seeds
  • One medium fennel bulb/head, thinly sliced, fronds reserved
  • One tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • One teaspoon ground sumac, plus a large pinch or two more for garnishing
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
  • Two tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
  • One tablespoon fresh parsley leaves
  • About one and 1/4 ounces (35 grams) Greek feta cheese, sliced/crumbled
  • One tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. First, remove the pomegranate seeds from the pomegranate by slicing in in half and then, with cut side down over a large bowl, firmly tap the back of the pomegranate with a spoon. The seeds will fall out into the bowl; pick out any pulpy bit. (Or, buy the prepackaged seeds from the store as I did, because that’s all that was available.) Set seeds aside.

2. Trim the stems from the fennel bulb, reserving the fronds for garnish. Using a knife or a mandoline, thinly slice the fennel. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, sumac, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. It is better to undersalt a bit as the feta will add more salt later. Toss in the fennel slices and stir to coat. Stir in about 3/4 of the feta, then sprinkle over the remaining feta with the pomegranate seeds.

4. Garnish the salad with the picked tarragon and parsley leaves; dust over a pinch or two of sumac and the black sesame seeds. Taste and add more salt, lemon juice, sumac, and/or pepper if necessary; the salad should be bright-tasting but not overly lemony nor salty. Enjoy right away; the salad doesn’t really keep.

Bibliography

Ottolenghi, Yotam, and Sami Tamimi. “Fennel and feta with pomegranate seeds and sumac.” Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. London: Ebury Press, 2008 (17).

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