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Yotam Ottolenghi's Red Onion Salad with Arugula and Walnut Salsa

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If you're like us, you look to the seasons for what to cook. Get to the market, and we'll show you what to do with your haul.

Today: A salad that gives onions top billing -- and that you'll want to make room for on your holiday table.

Roasted Onion Salad

Here’s a fun party trick: Tease your guests with the promise of an onion salad and watch how many people don’t show up. 

An onion salad doesn’t carry the same allure as mashes bathed in cream, crisp-skinned birds, or a circus of pies. It evokes memories of crunchy fridge pickles and offensive salsas and makes one worry that they forgot their Altoids at home. It is not an easy sell.

But dig deep enough and you’ll find that every skeptic also, when faced with a bare crisper drawer and a need for food, has roasted onions and eaten them plain, or caramelized a whole pound of them and attacked the goo with determination and a fork. Onions are sexier than we give them credit for -- and surprisingly adept at headlining in a bright, colorful salad. 

Roasted Red Onions

Of course, Yotam Ottolenghi already knows this. And he has turned red onions -- the allium that nobody knows quite what to do with -- into the centerpiece of a weird and wonderful autumn salad that will have you questioning what a salad really is in the first place. His Roasted Red Onions with Walnut Salsa is the sleeper hit of his latest vegetable bonanza, Plenty More: You might miss it while fawning over zucchini baba ghanoush and all the things you can do with yogurt, but it should be your first stop.

Those onions aren’t expected to carry this whole sideshow by themselves, though: Their soft sweetness is buoyed by cobwebs of peppery arugula, chunks of creamy goat cheese, a generous helping of parsley, and the perky twang of a “walnut salsa,” which is really just nuts marinated in vinegar and chile, a condiment that refuses to be quieted down by oil or sugar. 

Unlike an austere heap of lettuce, this is a salad with enough personality to land a spot on your Thanksgiving roster without feeling like an obligation. Salads are an important holiday side -- at their best, they lift you from the depths of a turkey coma, and offer enough acid and spice to slap your palate back into fighting shape. They're a welcome little intermission between Act One: STARCHES and Act Two: MORE STARCHES.

Roasted Onion Salad on Food52

That walnut salsa is also the sort of thing -- like the knife pesto on Deborah Madison’s sautéed zucchini -- that you’ll steal from this recipe, Robin Hood-style, and spoon onto all the other things in your kitchen in need of an awakening. 

Like most of Ottolenghi’s recipes, this one is exacting -- he meticulously measures ingredients we’re used to adding in heaps and dashes -- but will reward you with a few tricks you can carry on to other salads and other seasons. Try it with shallots or mustard greens, or add in a pinch of mint. Most importantly: Remember to treat your herbs like salad greens. 

Roasted Onion Salad on Food52

A note on goat cheese: Like you, I suffer from ‘90s-era beet salad PTSD. But we can’t let that hold us back; without that bit of creaminess, the salad falls flat. Feta would be too sharp, brie too awkward and loud, hard cheeses unwelcome and unwieldy. Little swabs of cheese will attach to the saturn rings of onion, attracting arugula and nuts like flypaper, binding everything together in a cohesive gob. So much sharpness in one bowl -- spice, acid, pepper, allium -- requires a little smoothing out.

I first made this salad alongside another recipe from Plenty More, cinnamon-spiced roasted squash topped with a spicy yogurt and a drizzle of cilantro oil, the sort of obvious success we've come to expect from these books. But after my first serving, I kept coming back to the onion salad, a little perplexed and feeling like I had discovered a secret. 

Red Onion Salad with Arugula and Walnut Salsa

From Plenty More (Ten Speed, October 2014)

Serves 4

For the salad:

4 medium red onions
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup arugula (Not to be a snob, but if you can find arugula at your farmers market, I promise that it will be ten times better than the boxed stuff. Prettier, too.)
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 ounces soft goat cheese, broken into 1/2- to 1-inch chunks
Flaky salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the walnut salsa:

2/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (make sure they're not bitter or rancid)
1 fresh red chile (e.g. Thai bird's eye), seeded and finely chopped
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Mark Weinberg

Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!
Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!

Tags: Arugula, Goat Cheese, Onion, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Holiday, Vegetarian, Long Reads, Editors' Picks, Holiday Entertaining