Fennel and Grapefruit Salad with Baharat
Ashkenazi Jewish food has a reputation as being greasy and a bit bland. And as the saying goes, there is some truth to every stereotype. My Eastern European ancestors certainly enjoyed their share of fresh produce—everything from the chilled sour cherry soups they cooled down with during the summer months to the spicy black radishes they ate all winter. And yet, most of the dishes one associates with Ashkenazi cuisine—things like potato kugel and knishes, stuffed cabbage and chopped liver—tend decidedly toward the heavier side.I happen to love this Jewish soul food for exactly what it is—nourishing and deeply comforting. But as a 21st century cook, my taste buds also demand freshness. So on Hanukkah, when fried foods make up the majority of the menu, I like to balance out the table with one or more bright, crisp, and colorful salads.This particular mix of fennel and grapefruit is not traditional to any particular subset of Jewish cuisine, but it is inspired by the citrus-and-herb-forward salads of North Africa and the Middle East. The fennel lends crunch and delicate flavor, while the grapefruit’s sweet-tart acidity cuts through the oil in the latkes.The dressing is enhanced with two hallmark ingredients of the region’s cuisine. The first is silan, a richly flavored, molasses-textured syrup made from boiled dates (you can used date syrup). The second, baharat, is the salad’s shining star. Baharat is a compound spice containing some variety of allspice, cardamom, cumin, ginger, rose petals, coriander, cinnamon, and chile peppers, among other spices. (Not surprisingly, the word “baharat” simply means “spices” in Arabic.) Whisked into the dressing, it permeates the dish, adding intrigue and complex flavor. Many varieties of baharat are available online; my favorite brand is made by New York Shuk.I eat variations of this salad all winter long. But on Hanukkah, for an Ashkenazi-meets-Middle Eastern mashup, I prefer to heap it on top of latkes like a refreshing slaw.