I count you one of the lucky ones if you’ve tasted a date shake. My husband introduced me to them many years ago at Hadley’s Fruit Orchard about 30 miles West of Palm Springs, California. Back then, their location was marked by a huge metal dinosaur just off Highway 10. The first time we approached it the last thing I wanted to do was stop for a date shake. I was impatient with the drive and eagerly anticipating relaxing in the land of the endless blue skies and sun. And anyway, up until then my experience with dates had been those baked in a bar cookie. And although they were good I wasn’t sure I would veer of the interstate and delay my trip to eat one. Wow am I glad we did. A date shake is liquid paradise.
California Chicken Chop Salad is a long way from a shake or a cookie bar, but I’ve been trying dates in savory recipes given the rise in popularity of Middle Eastern cooking these past few years and I like them this way. It’s inspired by a salad I ate at True Food Kitchen restaurant and with a little pre-cooking the night before, it can be quickly thrown together just before you’re ready to eat dinner.
Half the fun in eating this salad is the contrasting flavors and textures. Chopped cooked chicken and thinly sliced kale or romaine lettuce provides the base for the slightly crunchy farro, chopped whole almonds and celery. The distinct and full flavor of Manchego cheese (made from sheep’s milk) pairs nicely with the natural sweetness of date chunks. And they’re all tossed together with the mild but distinctive honey shallot vinaigrette made with rice vinegar for a softer flavor.
Shallots, from the onion family, look similar in shape to garlic but have a light brownish pink papery thin skin and can be found near the onions and garlic in the produce section. They’re milder than an onion and are the perfect compliment to the sweet honey and rice vinegar.
Dates go back thousands of years originating in the Middle East. Grown on the date palm tree, they thrive in hot dry climates. The Coachella Valley of the California desert produces the majority of the dates grown in the United States. They’re harvested in September and available year round because of cold storage. Contrary to what most of us believe, dates are not a dried fruit but rather a “dry” fruit meaning they have a moister content of about 30 percent whereas most fruits are 75 to 90 percent.
- ½ cup farro
- 8 cups thinly sliced Tuscan kale (rib removed) or Romaine lettuce (about 1 head)
- Honey Shallot Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
- 2 cups chopped or shredded cooked chicken
- 1-1/2 cups (about 8 ounces) chopped pitted dates
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup (4 ounces) cubed Manchego cheese
- ½ cup chopped raw or roasted whole almonds
- Rinse farro in a fine mesh strainer. Combine with 1-1/2 cups water and a pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook just until tender but still with a little crunch, about 25 minutes. Drain and cool to room temperature (farro can be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated several days).
- Toss kale with vinaigrette then add remaining ingredients and toss until evenly coated.
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
Whisk together vinegar, honey, shallots and mustard. Whisk in olive oil; season with salt and pepper.