AN ODE TO AROMA: SWEET POTATO + BLACK LENTIL SALAD

While cooking, listen to this: Lo Friarim - Hadag Nahash

When I first started my junior year on study abroad, I made the rookie mistake of actually studying. My roommate, now a best friend, and I would spend hours on our homework, memorizing Hebrew verbs and studying Israeli artists until our eyes glazed over. Silly, really, to think of all those wasted hours that could have been spent at the beach or the shuk. Once we moved out of the dorms, though, and into the city center, we learned our lesson. This is why you should never live more than a ten-minute walk from the beach.

For some reason our Monday schedules had a weird 6-hour block of time between classes. We lived right across from the university, but didn't feel like schlepping our books and bags back and forth in 98-degree weather. Luckily for us, Tel Aviv University's campus has its very own Aroma, which is where we spent literal days of our lives listening to the 8-Track movie soundtrack playlist and getting shit done.

I kind of want to say that Aroma is Israel's answer to Starbucks, but Aroma is so much more than that. No offense to Starbucks, they're great, but Aroma is on a whole other level. Not only do they have every type of coffee beverage imaginable, but they also have an amazing food menu. There are a few in New York and Los Angeles now - places with sizable Israeli populations - but in Israel these are EVERYWHERE.

aroma salad
aroma salad

A note about produce in Israel: everything is extremely seasonal, so unless it's strawberry season, you can't get strawberries anywhere. So, a lot of places will adapt their menus, or at least portions of them, to reflect what's in season. Places will also create menus based on the season itself, thinking about what people would want to eat in the winter versus the summer. I learned this the hard way when I got addicted to their sweet potato and black lentil salad. I ordered this at least twice a week, and it got me through a lot of rough homework assignments. I could probably credit that salad with my Hebrew fluency. But anyway, one day I walked up to the counter, ready to conquer the afternoon with a cafe hafuch (kind of like a upside down cappucino) and my salad, when I was told by the barista that the salad was no longer in season. "What? What do you mean?" I stammered. "It's only available in the winter," she responded, slightly wary of the fraught American standing in front of her. To this day, readers, I don't understand why Israelis think eating a sweet potato salad during every season is weird. Their restaurants, their rules, I suppose.

aroma salad
aroma salad

What makes this story even more tragic is that the salad, as far as I can tell from the Aromas in New York, isn't available at all outside of Israel. Necessity is the mother of invention or whatever, so I created this salad to fill the void that Aroma has left in my soul. You might think I'm being overly dramatic, but once you eat this salad you will know exactly what I'm talking about. The original salad doesn't have pickled red onion - I added those for fun. This will tell you a lot about what I think is fun.

aroma salad

This salad is great on its own or with a side of toasted bread. I would say crusty bread, but why people think that is an acceptable term is something I will never understand. The sweet potatoes and lentils make it really hearty, and everything is better topped with cheese. In the Aroma salad they use bulgarit, a type of soft white cheese, but since we're in America and I don't have access to it, I'm using feta. Feel free to use any cheese you like! Or, to make it vegan, simply omit it. As for dressing, I went with a really simple olive oil and lemon juice mix - with the pickled onions and the cheese, there's already a lot of acid and flavor going on, and using a dressing with more ingredients can muddle it up.

So thank you, Aroma, for feeding and caffeinating me during all of those long study sessions, and for making such a delicious, if not fickle, salad. This one's for you.

Love and meows, Rina

aroma salad

SWEET POTATO + BLACK LENTIL SALAD

Servings: 4 | Cook Time: 30/35 m | Category: Salad, Vegan-Friendly | Source: inspired by Aroma Espresso Bar

10 ounces arugula

2 medium sweet potatoes

½ cup black/beluga lentils

1 cup veggie stock

1 red onion

½ cup fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon sugar

Feta cheese

Olive oil and lemon juice, to taste

For the sweet potatoes: preheat your oven to 450. Peel the sweet potatoes and chop into cubes. Toss in olive oil and bake in an even layer for 20 minutes. Give a good toss and bake for 20 more. Know your oven - it might take shorter or longer to roast your sweet potatoes. Once they're tender all the way through and starting to caramelize, take them out to cool. If they're too soft they'll lose their shape when they're tossed in the salad.

For the lentils: place the lentils and veggie stock into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down so that the liquid is simmering, and cook with the lid on for about 25 minutes. Check on these every once in a while and give them a good stir - lentils can be sneaky sometimes and stick to the bottom of the pan.

For the pickled red onion: you can either dice your onions, or slice them into half moons. I like the dicing method, but feel free to do what feels right to you. Place them in a bowl and pour in the lime juice, salt and sugar. Cover, and let sit for at least 20 minutes. The longer they sit, the more pickled they'll taste. You can do this in the fridge or on your counter top. When you're ready to use them, drain the liquid out.

To assemble: put your arugula in a large bowl and layer on the sweet potatoes, lentils, drained pickled red onion and feta cheese (if using). For a dressing, just pour on a bit of olive oil, squeeze some lemon in and toss well.

To serve: like all salads, this should be eaten more or less immediately. Serve with some white wine and your favorite bread and you're good to go.

To keep: if you know you aren't going to be eating all of the salad at once, my advice is to save some of the components (potatoes, lentils etc.) in a separate container. Those all keep really well in the fridge, and the pickles will get even better over time. When you want to eat your leftovers, you can eat them cold, warm or at room temp over the arugula.