This warm salad is a superb dish for entertaining that hits just the right tone as we put the winter behind us. The crowning of crisp pita adds a dramatic touch to the presentation and a textural element that helps to bring the salad together. You could deconstruct this and serve the salad individually plated with a grilled double-cutlet of lamb – perfect dinner party fare.
100g blanched almonds
4 lamb backstraps, about 200g each
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp sumac
500g baby spinach leaves
2 celery hearts (or 4 pale inner stalks), sliced finely on an angle
1 bunch of mint, leaves picked, large leaves torn
2 handfuls pomegranate seeds
For the date paste
250g Medjool dates, pitted and finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup boiling water
2 tsp finely chopped preserved lemon (optional)
For the dressing
150ml extra virgin olive oil
150ml pomegranate molasses
juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, finely grated
1½ tsp dried chilli flakes
½ tsp salt flakes
For the pita
100ml extra virgin olive oil
5 small pitas, each cut into 8 triangles
1 tbsp ground cumin
1. For the date paste, bring all the ingredients to a simmer in a small saucepan, then tip into a blender and blitz until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. The paste should be the consistency of very thick honey. If necessary, add a little hot water to loosen.
2. For the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.
3. For the pita, add half the butter and half the oil to a large frying pan over medium heat. Fry the pita in batches for about 90 seconds on each side, adding more oil and butter as needed. Don't rush this and don't crowd the pan, as these need to be crisp. Remove from the pan, sprinkle over some cumin and season with salt and pepper. Drain on paper towel. The pita triangles will crisp up as they cool.
4. Wipe out the pan, then toast the almonds over medium heat, tossing them regularly until scorched.
5. Season and oil the lamb and cook on a very hot griddle plate, barbecue or frying pan for about four minutes on each side, then rest for five minutes covered loosely with foil. Once rested, slice 3mm thick on an angle. Sprinkle half of the sumac over the lamb.
6. Add the spinach, celery and mint to a bowl, season with salt, dress with about 1½ tablespoons of oil and toss.
7. Spread the date puree around the edges of a large platter and pile half the salad in the middle. Top with the lamb and then the remaining salad. Scatter over the almonds and pomegranate seeds and drizzle over the dressing. Finish with the fried pita and remaining sumac and serve.
Tip: If you don't like the idea of frying the pita, oil the triangles and bake at 190C (170C fan-forced) for about eight minutes, then cool. They're not quite as delicious as the fried version, but they still taste good.