Whither radicchio?

Recipes are like friends; some you’re willing to go a little more out of your way for than others. Spinach Salad with Grilled Red Onion and Tahini Vinaigrette never seemed like it was going to be my BFF. It had been on my radar for a while, but it took the proper planet alignment in order to claw it’s way onto the table: a leftover jar of tahini (courtesy of Virginia T. Habeeb) happened to coincide with a fortuitous trip to the farmer’s marker (baby spinach! red onion!) and a gut-bustingly large Indian lunch. Fate had determined that a light dinner was on the cards and this was the light dinner it was meant to be.

I loved the idea: caramelized red onions and mild baby spinach tossed in a nutty tahini vinaigrette and served in bowl-like, purple radicchio leaves. But the radicchio was a problem, namely because I didn’t have any. There was none at the farmer’s market. None at the crummy grocery store 5 blocks from my apartment (hardly a shocker) and none at the overpriced-but-cute gourmet shop another two blocks beyond that.

I had to make a crucial decision: how important was the radicchio? It’s not like I was trying to make spaghetti and meatballs without meatballs. But the radicchio sounded good. My mental tastebuds imagined how the bite of the leaves would balance the sweetness of the onions. I wanted the radicchio, but I’d already been to three places and walked a mile in search of it.

Part of living the car-free life, means that the number of errands I can run or the distance I can travel in a day is limited to how far my hot-pink Pumas are willing to take me. Today, they weren’t very willing. I went home, radicchio-less.

The salad was great. The dressing is creamy, but still light (mixing it in a blender is a must) and the onions (I broiled) are fantastic. The recipe makes quite a bit of dressing, and I used the leftovers as a marinade for notoriously-bland tilapia a few days later with stellar results.

But I couldn't shake the feeling that those sweet onions and the nutty dressing could have used a bitter counterpoint. It needed radicchio. I guess I'll have to look a little harder next time.

Spinach Salad with Grilled Red Onion and Tahini Vinaigrette
Courtesy Bon Appétit, June 1996
Serves 10

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons tahini (sesame seedpaste)
2 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1 small garlic clove, minced
3/4 vegetable oil

2 large red onions

12 cups (packed) baby spinach,trimmed
10 large radicchio leaves

1. Combine first six ingredients in blender and blend well. Gradually blend in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Cut onions lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick wedges, leaving root ends intact. Place onions in 15x10-inch glass baking dish. Pour 1 cup vinaigrette over onions, coating evenly. Let marinate 3 hours. Chill remaining dressing. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill onions.)

3. Prepare barbecue (medium-high-heat) or preheat broiler. Sprinkle onions with salt and pepper. Grill or broil onions until golden, turning occasionally, about 12 minutes. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

4. Place spinach in large bowl. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Fill radicchio leaves with spinach. Top with grilled onions. Pass remaining dressing separately.

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