Potatoes, beets, onions, carrots…they are relegated to the back row at the green grocer, the work horses of the kitchen pantry. The front table is reserved for the “new release”. Now the strawberries have the privileged spot which it flaunts with brilliant color. The cashier coaxes the customers “They are the sweetest, just take a bite”, as he slices fruit with his pocket knife and offers samples.
In the mild climate of the Middle East, December is bountiful and not nearly as cold as the more northern regions. Greens flood the market; parsley, Swiss chard and spring onions are at their peak. The seasonal fruits range from the ordinary-the last of the pomegranates to the unusual- magenta pink cactus fruit with winglets called pitaya and feijoa, an exotic originating from South America (with a fragrance that has always reminded me of a dental clinic). These appear suddenly before fading away.
But it is during winter that the root vegetables shine, in their own quiet way. Nobody makes a fuss of what’s always available. In the warmer months beets are often spongy, potatoes become gook with the least bit of over cooking and carrots, though bright orange, have a bitter tinge to them. It’s its better they do not get a solo part.
When they do come onto their own, complicated recipes are not necessary. Just a dash of salt, a swirl of olive oil or a squeeze of lemon.
Beet salad is often part of the mezze spread at the local grill restaurants. I tried adding a teaspoon of mustard into the mix. I think I’ll leave it out next time. Vinegar can be used in place of lemon juice.
4 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1-2 garlic cloves crushed
Small bunch parsley, finely chopped
Wash the beets but leave them unpeeled. Roast the beets in a 180°C oven until there is no resistance when pricked with a fork, about 45 minutes. When they are cool enough to handle peel and cut the beets into cubes. Alternatively, the beets can be boiled although this leaches much of the pigment out. Make a dressing from the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic and pour onto the beets. Add the parsley and toss to coat.
Other beet recipes popular in Israel:
Those of Iraqi origin introduced beet kubba to Israel, while the Eastern Europeans have always loved borscht. Yael Ruder shares her beet and goat cheese ravioli and Liz makes a winter salad with snow peas and beet greens. For those who love their salads doubly red, My Persian Kitchen tries a pomegranate and beet mix.