Four Easy Summer Salads For A Middle Eastern Fête

Last June I was in Israel, where almost every meal begins with a gorgeous array of small plates, collectively called mezze. These include hummus and other dips, along with a vibrant variety of salatim — salads — made from the ever-abundant local produce.

Here in the Northeast corridor of the United States, June is when our green markets shine with all manner of late-spring and early-summer produce. There are string beans and asparagus, cucumbers, herbs and peas, rhubarb and beautiful little strawberries that are far more flavorful than any you’ll find in the supermarket. Inspired by the salatim I ate in Israel, I set out to create salads made from fresh, locally grown ingredients.

“Seasonal” and “local” have been buzzwords for a while now, and for good reason. Lately, another aspirational concept has made its way into our culinary vocabulary: “zero waste.” At this year’s International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference, I attended a panel discussion on the topic led by Mitchell Davis, executive vice president of the James Beard Foundation and author of “The Mensch Chef.”

The U.S. wastes $218 billion worth of food a year, according to Regina Northouse, executive director of the Food Recovery Network, who was on the panel. And it’s one of the biggest contributors to climate change, she said.

“When we throw this food away, where it goes is typically a landfill, where the biggest item by far is food. It causes greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

Only 10% of food waste is turned into compost in this country, with the rest going into the garbage, said Allison Tozzi Liu, editorial director of the James Beard Foundation. But, as she told us, “It’s not really waste until you waste it. It’s ingredients.”

June is the perfect month to start reducing food waste by using the fruit and vegetable “scraps” we normally toss. For example, while supermarket carrots generally come in a plastic bag, their fern-like fronds removed, the ones at the farmers’ market include their bright green tops, which can be made into pesto or used as a stand-in for parsley or chervil. Beet greens, usually lackluster in the store, are fresh and flavorful, ready to be sautéed with garlic, just like spinach.

In the salad recipes here, I tried to use as much of each fruit or vegetable as possible, saving any remaining “by-products” for another day. (I’ll turn vegetable peels and ends into stock and use the stewed rhubarb left over from making the syrup for the strawberry salad into a sweet-tart substitute for apple sauce.)

These days, of course, we can find almost anything we want in the supermarket, flown in from places across the globe. But when June rolls around, we can finally eat like Israelis, making beautiful use of our delicious local bounty.

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese

Often discarded as scraps, beet greens are not only edible — they’re also mild-tasting and full of vitamins and minerals. Use a few leaves in this recipe and save the rest to sauté with garlic and olive oil, as you would spinach.

Serves 4

1½ pounds small beets, a mix of red and yellow if available

4 tablespoons olive oil (some is for frying the garlic, so you won’t consume it all), divided

2 garlic cloves, finely sliced

2 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup shelled pistachio nuts

4–5 beet green leaves, stems removed, thinly sliced

NOTE: If beet greens don’t look good enough to eat, substitute one or two kale leaves, thinly sliced.

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Wash and trim the beets, cutting the larger ones in half so they cook evenly. Save the beet greens if they look fresh and bright. Dry the beets with a paper towel and rub with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Wrap in foil and roast for 40-45 minutes.

  2. Toward the end of roasting the beets, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in a small pan until hot. Add the garlic and cook until pale golden brown. Flip quickly with a fork or spatula, wait about 30 seconds and remove to a plate; cover with two sheets of paper towel.

  3. Add the beet greens to the oil, stir for about 5 seconds and remove to a plate. Reserve the garlic-infused oil.

  4. Peel beets under running water (this is optional) then cut into wedges, leaving any very small ones whole, and arrange on a serving plate. Scatter goat cheese around the beets and top with garlic chips and beet greens. Drizzle with the reserved oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Moroccan-Inspired Carrot Salad

In the interest of reducing food waste, this dish calls for using the fern-like greens from the carrots. If you can’t find carrots with bright, fresh-looking greens, parsley makes a fine substitute.

Serves 4

1½ pounds small to medium carrots, preferably of different colors, peeled

¼ teaspoon cumin seeds

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 small (4 ounce) red onion, finely chopped

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of ground cayenne pepper

⅓ cup carrot greens or flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¼ teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

If you don’t have cumin seeds, substitute ground cumin.

Bring two inches of water to a boil in a 10- or 12-inch pan and simmer whole carrots, covered, for 8–10 minutes, until they’re slightly softened but still firm. (Consider saving the cooking liquid for vegetable stock.) Once the carrots are cool enough to handle, slice them into rounds and set aside.

Wipe the pan dry and add cumin seeds. Cook 30 seconds, shaking the pan, until seeds are fragrant. Remove to a small bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the pan. Add red onion and cook, stirring, about 8 minutes, until translucent. Add cinnamon, cayenne and reserved cumin seeds and stir for 20–30 seconds. Transfer to a serving bowl and add sliced carrots and carrot greens or parsley.

Whisk remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil the lemon juice, salt and zest. Toss with carrot mixture.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Salad

A seasonal twist on the ubiquitous watermelon-feta salad, this one uses strawberries and rhubarb, both abundant right now. (The rhubarb is for a sweet-tart syrup used in the salad dressing. Feel free to leave it out and increase the amount of lime juice and olive oil.)

Serves 4

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

2 ounces (about 2 stalks) rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

⅛ teaspoon salt

1 pound strawberries, trimmed and quartered

¼ cup mint leaves, torn

3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

  1. Put the sugar and water in a small pot over high heat and simmer until sugar dissolves completely. Add the rhubarb and simmer 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place a strainer over a small bowl. Strain rhubarb and set syrup aside to cool. (Reserve the cooked rhubarb; it’s a delicious substitute for applesauce.)

  2. When syrup has cooled a bit, whisk in oil, lime juice and salt.

  3. Place strawberries in a serving bowl and add mint leaves. Add dressing and toss to coat berries. Add feta and toss gently to combine.

Spring Green Tabbouleh

This nontraditional take on tabbouleh calls for a mix of bright green vegetables available in late spring and early summer. Feel free to substitute whatever looks good at the market.

Serves 4

½ pound asparagus, cut into one-inch pieces

½ pound string beans, cut into one-inch pieces

½ pound snow or snap peas, cut into one-inch pieces

½ pound cucumbers, finely diced

3-4 scallions, finely chopped

1 cup cooked bulgur wheat or quinoa

1 cup (loosely packed) mint leaves, finely chopped

½ cup (loosely packed) flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

¼ cup oil-cured, pitted black olives, roughly chopped

⅓ cup fresh lemon juice

⅓ cup olive oil

¼ preserved lemon (about 2 teaspoons of lemon rind only), rinsed and finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Simmer asparagus, string beans and peas for 1–2 minutes in a large covered pan until bright green but still crisp. Put the vegetables into a bowl of ice water. Drain vegetables when cool.

  2. In a large bowl, combine cooked vegetables, cucumbers, scallions, bulgur or quinoa, herbs and olives.

  3. Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, preserved lemon, salt and pepper together. Pour over vegetable mixture. Toss and taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper and lemon juice as desired.

Liza Schoenfein is senior food writer at the Forward and author of the blog Life, Death & Dinner. Follow her on Instagram @LifeDeathDinner

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