Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Asparagus and Samphire (Sea Asparagus) + Fennel and Feta with Pomegranate Seeds and Sumac: An Ottolenghi Salad Duo

Since it is the last two weeks of cooking along with Yotam Ottolenghi at I Heart Cooking Clubs and I just got (the recently released in the U.S.) Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, I figured I better do some last-minute cooking from it before we move onto our next chef, Donna Hay. Perusing the pages, I was torn between two salads--Asparagus and Samphire (or sea asparagus as we call it here) and the Fennel and Feta with Pomegranate Seeds and Sumac, so I decided to just go ahead and make them both. We are lucky enough to be able to get locally grown asparagus most of the year, as well as local sea asparagus. In fact, with the exception of the pomegranate (which I just found arriving at my neighborhood grocery stores this week), all the produce in these two salads is locally grown--always a bonus. Both salads are a great example of the genius of Ottolenghi--combining ingredients in unusual but amazing combinations, and why I am going to miss cooking along with him each week. 

About the Asparagus and Samphire, Ottolenghi says, "Here we combine "poor man's asparagus," as it is sometimes referred to, with its rich counterpart to create an attractive salad, full of flavors and many shades of green. Serve as an accompaniment to fried fish or on its own as a starter."

Asparagus and Samphire (Sea Asparagus)
From Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
(Serves 4)

1 Tbsp black sesame seeds (if not available use white) (I used both)
24 medium-thick asparagus spears
3 1/2 oz (100 g) samphire (sea asparagus), washed
2 Tbsp olive oil (I used 1 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp sesame oil (I used 1/2 Tbsp)
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp tarragon leaves 
coarse sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Put the sesame seeds in a non-stick pan and place over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, just to toast them gently. Remove from the heat and set aside. 

To cook the greens, fill a large saucepan with plenty of cold water and bring to a boil. You don't need to add salt samphire is salty enough. Trim the woody bases of the asparagus and put the spears in the boiling water. Blanch for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the samphire. Cook for another minute until the asparagus is tender but still firm. 

Drain the greens in a large colander and run lots of cold water over them. It's very important to get them completely cold. Leave in the colander to drain and then dry with a kitchen towel. 

To finish the salad, put the asparagus and samphire in a bowl and mix with the rest of the ingredients. Toss well, then taste and adjust the seasoning. You might not need any extra salt. Serve straightaway, or chill and serve within 24 hours. 


About the Fennel and Feta with Pomegranate & Sumac, Ottolenghi says, "This salad is a festival in itself. The fennel and tarragon, with their echoing flavors, form a solid base on which stronger colors and flavors--pomegranate, feta, sumac--manifest themselves without overwhelming the whole salad. It is distinctly fresh and goes well with roast meats and grilled fish. Crusty bread is almost obligatory to soak up the juices from the plate.

Fennel and Feta with Pomegranate Seeds and Sumac
From Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
(Serves 4)

1/2 pomegranate
2 medium heads of fennel
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil 
2 tsp sumac, plus extra to garnish
Juice of 1 lemon
4 Tbsp tarragon leaves
2 Tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 1/2 oz (70g) Greek feta cheese, sliced 

Start by releasing the pomegranate seeds. The best way to do this is to halve the pomegranate along its "belly" (you only need half a pomegranate here), then hold the half firmly in your hand with the seeds facing your palm. Over a large bowl, start bashing the back of the fruit with a wooden spoon. Don't hit the fruit too hard or you'll bruise the seeds and break the skin. Magically, the seeds will just fall out, without splashing you in the process. Pick out any white skin that falls in. (Note: I tried this but think that it is far easier and less messy to use the "underwater" method found here.)

Remove the leaves of the fennel, keeping a few to garnish later, and trim the base, making sure you leave enough of it still attached to hold the slices together. Slice very thinly lengthways (a mandolin would come in handy here).

In a bowl, mix the olive oil, sumac, lemon juice, herbs and some salt and pepper. Add the fennel and toss well. Taste for seasoning but remember the feta will add saltiness.

Layer the fennel, then the feta and then the pomegranate seeds in individual serving dishes.

Garnish with fennel leaves, sprinkle over some sumac and serve the salad immediately.

Notes/Results: These are two fantastic salads--full of such great flavor. It is a close call but the Asparagus & Samphire would win as my favorite. I love sea asparagus for its little bursts of salty briny goodness--so perfect mixed in with the asparagus--plus you get the hit of the tarragon to balance things out, and the simple sesame garlic dressing was delicious. I am eating my leftovers tomorrow with some seared ahi and think I will be making this one a lot in the future--so simple and so good. The refreshing Fennel and Feta with Pomegranate Seeds and Sumac has so much going on and so many unique flavors. The crisp fennel with its mild licorice taste is enhanced by the tarragon and softened by the creamy feta and the whole dish brightened by the lemon in the dressing, the tart sumac and tangy-sweet pomegranate seeds. It might seem odd to have them on the same plate with the different flavor profiles but it tasted great as a light dinner with some seeded flat bread crackers--and we'll just consider the tarragon in both the tie in! ;-) I would definitely make both of these salads again.

It's Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs. You can see what dishes everyone decided to make by going to the post and following the links.  



  1. Haha "poor man's asparagus"?! It is super expensive here, much pricier than regular asparagus! I love samphire though.

  2. I have never seen the samphire here so I've yet to be able to make this salad! Perhaps I can just omit it...sounds delicious!

  3. I wish I'd cooked more with him, but I am sooo looking forward to Donna Hay! Also, I have a salad for Souper Sundays!

  4. I have so many things to say about this post ;-) First of all, I must get my hands on a copy of that cookbook. Secondly, I'm really impressed that you were able to get everything locally. Lastly, let's discuss sea asparagus. You definitely got my attention with that one :)

  5. Couscous & ConsciousnessSeptember 21, 2013 at 3:48 PM

    Both of these salads looks gorgeous, Deb. I can just imagine all those amazing flavours and textures going on - I'm so going to miss a weekly cook-up with Ottolenghi. I'm very envious that you're able to get samphire - not something I've ever come across here and I've always wanted to try it.

  6. Both salads look great but I'm particularly intrigued by the samphire, something I haven't seen here (fresh). I've been cooking from the UK version of the book and was rather hoping that the US version would suggest a substitute. I wonder if pickled samphire would work.....

  7. Joyce, kitchen flavoursSeptember 22, 2013 at 5:04 AM

    Both salads looks wonderful! I have seen the one of his recipe using samphires, and got to goggle that one out! LOL!
    It is an interesting ingredient that I have not seen it here before, would love to try it!

  8. Totally impressed by these salads! That green asparagus and samphire looks beautiful!


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