Chicken with Spinach, Pine Nuts and Raisins

We have six perpetual spinach plants in the garden. It’s a great leafy vegetable to grow because you just break off the leaves as you need them and it keeps on growing.

Ours are in a raised bed which we can cover at night in the cooler months, like a greenhouse, so the plants don’t get damaged by frost.

This is a healthy, quick and easy dinner for two, but easily doubled for four. If liked serve with rice, potatoes or Israeli pearl couscous

1 large or two small chicken breasts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Herbs or spices of choice (paprika, thyme etc)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 bunch spinach, washed, stalks removed
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbs pine nuts
2 Tbs sultanas or raisins
Balsamic glaze

Cut chicken into six or eight lengthwise fat fingers. Season with salt and pepper and a good pinch of any spices or herbs you fancy. Last time I added a good pinch of curry powder. Place sultanas in a small bowl, cover with hot water, leave 3 minutes, then drain.

Pour boiling water over the spinach and leave for 2 minutes. Drain, squeeze out all the water and if spinach has large leaves, chop roughly. If using baby spinach, no need. Leave in a sieve to continue draining while you cook the chicken.

Heat 1 Tbs oil in a frying pan and cook chicken on both sides for 8-10 minutes, turning a couple of times, until cooked through. When chicken is cooked, remove from the pan. To the pan add the second Tbs of oil – you might not need it – spinach, garlic, pine nuts and sultanas or raisins. Stir fry for 2 to 3 minutes then season to taste.

Divide spinach among two serving plates. Top with chicken, then garnish with olive oil and balsamic glaze.

Serves 2

Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

Israeli-born Yotam Ottolenghi trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London. He then worked at the Michelin starred restaurant The Capital and later in the pastry section of the Kensington Place restaurant. He went on to become head pastry chef at Baker and Spice in Chelsea, where he met his Palestinian life partner Sami Tamimi. In 2002 their first delicatessen opened in Notting Hill. They have since opened three more establishments, selling some of the best takeaway food in London. Together Yotam and Sami have also co-authored several cook books.

Their culinary style is bold and often influenced by Middle Eastern flavours. This scrumptious salad comes from their book Jerusalem and came highly recommended by my daughter Catherine. The pan fried pita croutons idea is one you can use in other salads. You could do them with or without the nuts and use walnuts, pecans, pine nuts or macadamias to ring the changes. You could also use halved raisins if you don’t have any dates.

Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

1 Tbs white wine vinegar
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
100g pitted dates, cut into 1cm pieces
30g unsalted butter
2 Tbs olive oil
2 small pitas, split in two horizontally then torn into 3-4cm pieces
75g whole almonds (not skinned), roughly chopped
2 tsp Sumac
½ tsp chilli flakes (I used dried crushed whole chillies)
150g baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
1-2 Tbs lemon juice

Place vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl, add a pinch of salt and mix well. Leave to marinate for 20 mins then drain off any remaining vinegar and discard.

Heat butter and half the oil in a medium frying pan. Add pita and almonds and cook, stirring all the time, for 4-6 mins over medium heat until golden. Watch carefully the nuts don’t burn. Remove from heat and mix in the sumac, chilli and ¼ tsp salt.

To serve, mix spinach leaves with the pita and almonds. Add the dates and red onion, the remaining Tbs of oil, lemon juice to taste and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately in one large salad bowl or on individual plates.

Serves 4-6 as a side salad or 2 as a main course

Note: Sumac is a Middle Eastern ground spice available in ethnic markets and gourmet grocers.