When I moved back to Minneapolis, I remember being touched at the concept of returning to the city I would once more in my life call home. I was lucky to find things just as I had left them: all the places I like to go had doors wide open, all the food I liked to eat was still cooking, all the people I knew still had space for little, old me. I have been reflecting a lot on the fact that it still doesn’t look as I had imagined; there have been new spaces, new interests, and new friendships that have formed that I hadn’t anticipated, but that, these days, I couldn’t do without. One thing that didn’t really surprise me, though, was coming home to my dear friend, Christian. His intelligence, commentary, and capacity to cackle at any situation were just as I had left them = on point. But this time, he had gathered a bag of things he thought I’d like upon my return. You may remember me mentioning my newly acquired slow cooker (used for West African Peanut Stew); well, he also gave me some black tea.
Now, those tea bags were placed at the back of the cupboard and kind of neglected for several months. While I could have easily just added them to a cup of hot water, I kept instead wracking my brain for things I might do with them. Could I make frozen Arnold Palmers? Or what about homemade chai concentrate? A brine for poultry?
And then, one day, it hit me. I steeped dates in the black tea, which I had sweetened with raw honey, and then I used that liquid to make a sweet, astringent vinaigrette. I boiled some sweet potatoes until fork tender. I roasted red onion, red bell pepper, and gala apples. I marinated all of these in the vinaigrette, then added more dates, and also some hemp hearts, scallions, and freshly shaved Manchego. What resulted was a textured dish of layers: sweet, salty, briny, astringrent, and savory.
You know, I mentioned how I wouldn’t alter a speck of the goodness I have once more cultivated in my life at this time in this place. Well, it seems that unalterable goodness just keeps coming, because this dish, right here, is the latest addition. It’s good, it’s good for you, and it was made with ingredients gifted from a friend. I don’t think it gets better than that. I really don’t.
Sweet Potato Salad with Apples, Dates, and Black Tea Vinaigrette
Makes 6-8 Servings
Black Tea Vinaigrette:
Note:The vinaigrette should be made ahead of time for best flavor.
6 oz boiling water
2 black tea bags
2 dates, pits removed, roughly chopped
1 tbsp raw honey
2 tbsp olive oil
splash of apple cider vinegar
pinch of cayenne
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 large (or 3-4 smaller) sweet potatoes, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 gala apples, skins on, chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 dates, pits removed, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
3 scallions, light green and white parts only, thinly sliced
2 tbsp – 1/4 cup black tea vinaigrette (or as desired)
Manchego cheese (or other milder, firm cheese), for serving
Black Tea Vinaigrette:
Steep tea bags in boiling water according to package instructions (this is usually somewhere between 3-5 minutes. We are brewing this double strength by using more tea, but if you steep it longer than prescribed it will become bitter). Once steeped, remove tea bags and stir in honey until dissolved. Add dates and let steep for 30 minutes, then strain and reserve the tea. Whisk tea with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and cayenne, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool. Vinaigrette can be refrigerated for up to a week (note: this recipe makes more than is called for for the salad).
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook sweet potatoes until fully cooked through and slightly tender, about 15 minutes. When fully cooked, strain and set aside, allowing to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Distribute red onion, bell pepper, and apples on a baking sheet then drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until cooked, but with a slight crunch, about 10 minutes, tossing halfway through. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature. When all the vegetables have cooled, combine them in a large bowl. Stir in dates, scallions, and desired amount of black tea vinaigrette. Season the mixture once more with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with shavings of manchego cheese. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Salad will last up to three days, covered and refrigerated.