How can such a simple salad be so delicious? The first time I had this salad was when Dylan first came to visit me in Boston one autumn. Our courtship (to use an archaic word) was an unusual one…we reconnected in the weeks prior to our 10th year high school reunion, literally days before I was to set off for six months of work in Norway. We kept in touch in the months I was away and made plans to travel together through Eastern Europe that summer. Fast forward several months, I had returned to grad school and Dylan (who lived in California) was making his first trip to Boston to visit me since our whirlwind romance that summer. We decided to throw a little dinner party so that my friends could meet him and naturally, a “little” dinner party quickly exploded into an extravagant six-course meal under Dylan’s ambitious direction. Some of the courses were terribly involved, like a smoked chicken soup that required us to scavenge for woodchips at an apple orchard and then create a home smoker in my little apartment kitchen (yikes!). But perhaps the biggest winner of the night was this incredibly simple salad, which guests remember to this day.
Comprised of nothing more than fresh spinach, lightly pan-fried red onions, and an unusual, creamy tahini vinaigrette dressing, this salad is easy to make but tastes much more complex. The onions become soft and sweet and the dressing is rich and nutty. Dylan adapted his version from this June 1996 Bon Appetit recipe (posted here on Epicurious), cutting down on the oil in the dressing and adding even more tahini. It tastes just as good today as it did during that first visit. I didn’t fall in love with Dylan for his cooking prowess, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
Spinach salad with red onions and tahini (serves eight)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
6 tablespoons tahini (sesame seedpaste)
2 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard
2 teaspoon honey
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large red onions
12 cups (packed) baby spinach,trimmed
Combine all ingredients except oil in blender and blend well. Gradually blend in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Slice onions into 1/4-1/2 thick rounds. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in frying pan (medium-low), then add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cover. When the onions start to lose their color, take them off the heat (i.e. before they turn gray and floppy). Pour 1 cup vinaigrette over onions, coating evenly.
Place spinach in large bowl. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Top with grilled onions. Pass remaining dressing separately.