Do you like beets? For the longest time, I mistakenly thought that I hated them. Their intense dirt taste was just awful. I’m not typically a picky eater and will give most anything a try. But beets? Gross! But several surprisingly delicious encounters with beets at restaurants have made me want to work on this relationship. I realized that I may have based my dislike of them solely on beet juice. If you’ve ever had beet juice, you will know what I’m talking about. It is like drinking a tall glass of mildly sweet dirty rag. It is an overpowering flavor that forces everything else into the background. I bought my first bunch of beets, sautéed the gorgeous greens, pickled the raw beetroot, and ate them with fried eggs. The beet flavor was there but not smacking me in the face. Then in early spring, I made a salad with roasted beets, in-season asparagus, freekeh and a red onion vinaigrette. Roasting really toned down the beetroot’s earthiness, allowing a more concentrated sweetness to shine through. When paired with the tart pickled red onions, these beets really rocked! I didn’t get a chance to post that salad and sadly asparagus is no longer in season. This is a late summer version, but equally as good.
The late summer/early fall bring to market some of my favorite produce. This is the time for jewel-toned plums and berries, craggly shaped heirloom tomatoes, vibrant summer squash, and fresh sweet corn. These fruits and vegetables taste of maturity, offering a completely different experience from their young counterparts of Spring. They have leisurely grown up during the long hot summer months and taken in all that the sun’s rays have to offer. By the time they reach the farmer’s market, they have developed a deep rich flavor that is uniquely of this season. A hearty salad is the perfect way to enjoy this last bit of summer. When food tastes this fresh and flavorful, why fuss with it.
I am always on the lookout for new grains and beans to add to my pantry. I recently started cooking with freekeh and it has quickly become a favorite. This ancient Arabic cereal is very similar in taste to bulgur wheat but with a grassier undertone. I especially love the nutty bite that it adds to whatever dish it is in. Freekeh is wheat that is harvested while still yellow and soft; it is then dried in the sun and carefully set over an open flame. The fire is controlled so that only the straw and seed casing burn. After this step, the wheat is thrashed and dried again in the sun. Harvesting the wheat young insures that grain retains more protein, fiber and minerals than mature wheat. This delicious, fiber and nutrient dense grain is a great fix for quinoa fatigue.
Make this salad for your weekly lunches. It is sturdy enough that it will hold together; no soggy greens here. It is also hearty enough that it will keep you satisfied for a good long while.
L A T E S U M M E R B E E T + F R E E K E H S A L A D W I T H A R E D O N I O N V I N A I G R E T T E
1 ear of sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob
2 heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
5 assorted beetroots, such as chioggia and red
2/3 cup freekeh
1 avocado squash* or 2 zucchinis, chop into large slices
dill for garnishing
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Add the tomatoes and corn to a large bowl. Combine the red onions, vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Mix well and set aside. The onions will start to let out their delicious flavor into the vinegar. If your beets came with greens, cut off and reserve for other use. They are great sautéed with some garlic! Wrap each beetroot up with a piece of tin foil. Place in an oven-safe pan and roast for 45-50 minutes. They are done when you can easily slide a knife into the center. Once the beets have cooled, peel with a knife. Quarter them and add to the bowl with the tomatoes and corn.
In a small pot over medium high heat, dry toast the freekeh just until you can start to smell the nuttiness. Add 2/3 cup of water and 1/4 tsp of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes. If after this time there is still some liquid left in the pot, uncover and cook until water has been absorbed. The freekeh should have softened but still maintain a nice bite. Allow to cool.
In a medium-size pan over medium high heat, sautée the squash with a bit of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 4-5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Drain the onions and reserve the vinegar. Add the onions, squash, and freekeh, to the bowl with the rest of the vegetables.
For the dressing, combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt with the vinegar. Mix vigorously until the dressing comes together. Toss the salad with as much dressing as you like. Save what you don’t use. Garnish with generous amounts of dill.
* Unfortunately, avocado squash can be hard to find. But if you see them in your market, definitely give them a try. While they are similar to zucchinis, I find that they have a more pronounced flavor and silkier texture.