Summer’s a good time for a ‘mezze meal.’ With so many vegetables in season, you can easily pull together a colorful assortment of stuff to dip and mix from a plate with pita. This isn’t a very elaborate version of what that could be—try a colorful assortment of lots of salads and sides for a casual dinner party—but it hits the spot, and fills you up in all the right ways, making you feel both healthy and satisfied.
I got some new, baby golden beets in my Local Roots CSA share last week. Due to their tiny size, they took little time to boil into tender, marigold baubles to slice up. (If you don’t mind cranking on the oven for a spell, they can also be roasted.)
Whether red, pink or golden-yellow, beets are commonly found throughout the year as they last long in cold storage. But the first beets of the summer harvest season are especially flavorful, and hardly need much in the way of seasoning beyond olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.
Once that was settled, a quick cucumber (also just in from Local Roots CSA) and red onion salad was mixed up on the side. Both “salads” as we can now call these sliced and slightly dressed vegetables, can keep in your fridge for a couple days. They’ll deepen in flavor over time, although you’ll sacrifice the cukes’ crispness the longer you wait to eat it. (Best to keep the cukes and beets separate if storing, however, as even golden beets will bleed its color on everything else.) I tossed my salads together on the spot, and for a little something extra, topped them with a few crushed, toasted spices.
If you’re ever looking to “wake up” a dish, then toasting a few dry spices are a good way. Fresh herbs no doubt are another, and an apt one during summer as they’re easy to grow on your windowsill. But instead of the freshness of a snip of herbs, the earthy complexities of toasted spices lend contrast to an otherwise bright-tasting vegetable salad. It’ll also fill your kitchen with savory aromas as you shake around some whole spices a few seconds on a hot pan.
If you have a dedicated spice grinder or mortar and pestle, good for you. If not, just grab a wide, heavy spoon—like a Chinese soup spoon!—and smush the toasted spices well against the sides of a bowl. They might fly around a bit, especially those round coriander seeds as they pop. But what’s cooking without a few flying objects about?
A pool of hummus with a pile of veggies make for a perfectly good hot-weather meal. Stuff it all into a sandwich or scatter them around for a picnic spread soon.
Golden Beet and Cucumber Salad with Toasted Spices
(makes 2-3 servings)
5-6 small golden beets, washed and trimmed of stems
1 medium-sized cucumber, sliced to 1/4″ rings
about 1/4 medium-sized red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole sesame seeds
hummus and pita for serving
Cover the beets in enough water to submerge in a small pot and bring to a boil, covered. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue to cook, covered, until the beets are just tender when stabbed with a fork (depends on how large the beets are, but roughly 20-30 minutes for fairly small ones). Once cool enough to handle, slip the skins off the beets and slice into 1/4″ rings. Toss with half the lemon juice, a tablespoon of the olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, toss the sliced cucumber and red onion with the remaining lemon juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Both vegetable salads can keep covered and chilled for up to 2 days (for best flavor).
Once ready to serve, heat a dry pan and add the whole spices and sesame seeds. Shake the pan frequently for about 1 minute, as soon as the spices are fragrant and slightly golden-brown. Remove from heat immediately. Transfer to a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder, or just a bowl with a wide, flattish spoon) and coarsely crush the spices.
Arrange the hummus into serving dishes and top with the beet and cucumber salads. Top with the toasted, crushed spices and serve immediately with pita.
(for 2-3 servings)
1 bunch baby beets: $3.00
1 cucumber: $1.00
1 lemon: $0.50
1/4 red onion: $0.25
2 tablespoons olive oil: $0.25
1 teaspoon each coriander seeds, cumin seeds, sesame seeds: $0.50
1/2 tub hummus: $2.00
2 pitas: $1.00
Four brownie points: As their intense colors might suggest, beets are powerful little sources of vitamins and minerals, and are known for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They’re high in natural sugars, but that just means they don’t need to be seasoned much when you marinate them. (Some more Vitamin C from a fresh lemon can’t hurt, though.) Leaving those green skins on cukes retains more of their vitamins, like—you guessed it—Vitamin K. Plus, what’s more cooling than a cucumber in summer? With a spat of heart-healthy legume protein from the hummus and a bit of whole-grain pita bread, this is a well-rounded meal or hearty snack.
Eight maple leaves: Consuming all vegetables and getting all your nutritional needs met is good for you and good for your environmental impact. Plus, you can substitute freely with this recipe, using just sliced fresh tomatoes instead of beets, or roasted eggplant, or juicy peaches or nectarines. Or everything!
It’s important that consumers realize the benefits in using regular salad dressing on their salads – an increase in the absorption of certain nutrients. A Journal of the American Dietetic Association published study found that those who eat salads, raw vegetables and salad dressing have considerably higher levels of vitamins C, E and folic acid, all key nutrients in promoting a healthy immune system.