06 July 2012

Salad makes everything better

... I hope.

Are any of you left, dear readers? My reader is full of hundreds of posts from blogs that I love, but a recent gruelling schedule has meant that I hardly have time to think about food, much less cook it, much less read or write about it. I've managed to find time to scribble down recipes and sometimes even take photographs—my busy schedule has actually allowed me to refine many dishes because I've been eating the same thing meal after meal—but when it comes to writing, I just get stuck.

I even thought about putting my blog out of its misery, but the fact is that when I do get a chance to write here, it's a little corner of my life that is quietly joyful. I didn't want to turn my back on it despite the chaos of the last year (and the different, continuing chaos that I have to look forward to in the next year). Then I polled a group of friends and they voted in a landslide for me to keep it and do what I can. Wise words from wise people ... so here I am.

The current weight on my shoulders (sometimes literally) is a move that is happening in less than a month. I don't particularly like moving. We are a relatively simple pair, but the few things that we like to have are all heavy. Books? Boxes of them. Music? Too much to mention - and not packed onto our hard drives. Cast Iron? I bless the luck that allowed me to accumulate a large collection of Le Creuset by the age of 24, but I don't look forward to lugging it around.

Due to the planning, the yard sale, the various too-big-to-fit-into-the-moving-truck-and/or-new-apartment items that are being sold on craigslist or ebay, and the books being sorted into "take with us"/"sell to a local shop"/"store at Mike's step mom's house" categories, our home is starting to make me twitch. I've managed to keep the kitchen relatively ordered thus far, and tonight I'm going to inventory the freezer, fridge, and pantry to figure out what we need to eat (and what kinds of meals to make it into) before we pack up.

Greek-style chick peas and beets

I can tell you now that one thing that means is lots of legumes. Since I prefer dry beans to canned, I have a fairly well-stocked pantry, and since the weather is quickly warming up, I foresee a lot of salads in our future. After all, when it's hot outside and you're too busy to do much cooking, salad makes everything better.

chick pea and beet salad/sauté

Herbed Chick Pea Salad with Beets
Vaguely inspired by a description of a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty via a friend (sadly, this cookbook hasn't made its way to my house yet).

Of course, roasting beets does involve heating up the oven, and beets aren't at their best right now (I made this several weeks ago before the spring-to-summer transition was complete), but this salad would be equally delicious with sautéed zucchini, super-ripe tomatoes, or even (as I'm planning this weekend) garlicky cubes of eggplant.

As an added note, this salad is equally good warm or cold, and would make a great accompaniment to cold chicken or something similar at a picnic.

1 bunch of beets, tops included (I used golden beets)
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
½ medium onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Approximately 3 cups cooked chick peas (cooked from about 1 cup dry, or two cans, rinsed and drained)
1 teaspoon good salt, plus more if needed
black pepper
Several large sprigs, or a handful, fresh dill, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano (optional)
black pepper
red wine vinegar as needed

To roast the beetroots, remove and reserve the tops, wash the roots, and place them on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle with a little bit of salt, then wrap them in the foil and roast at 400ºF until tender, usually 20 minutes to an hour depending on their size (note that the temperature doesn't matter too much if you're already using your oven for something else). When tender, let the beets cool, then remove and discard the skins; set aside.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent and beginning to soften, but not browned, 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, wash the beet tops well and shake some of the water off; tear or chop into 2-3" pieces and set aside.

Add the garlic to the onions and stir just until fragrant, then add the beet greens, a handful or so at a time, stirring until wilted. Add the salt and the drained chick peas and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are heated through and the greens are tender, around 3-5 minutes. Add the dill and oregano, plus black pepper to taste; adjust seasonings as needed. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, either slice or chop up the beets (chopping them is best if you will serve it cold or as a side dish, but sliced has a nice presentation for a knife-and-fork meal). If you chop the beets, add them to the chick pea mixture and stir to combine.

Plate the salad; if you sliced the beets, arrange them atop the beans. Drizzle with some additional olive oil and a bit of red wine vinegar, and a bit of additional coarse salt if desired. Serve warm or cold.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish, 3 as a main dish