With a break from the heat this beautiful week, I've moved back to cooking, but only for quick and simple dishes. The peak produce right now is so good it doesn't need much fussing. Just a little caressing to coax out its best qualities.
This week’s post is devoted to a simple small plate of roasted beets paired with tangy labneh and herbal za'atar spice. Roasting the beets brings out their earthy, sweet flavor. (If you have access to an outdoor grill, grilling or smoking the beets briefly after they've been roasted imparts a lovely, smokey dimension to the dish.)
Za'atar refers to both an herb and a spice mix. This perennial herb is similar to thyme and grows wildly throughout the Middle East. Due to increasing demand, it is now cultivated. In this recipe, za'atar refers to the common spice mix that includes the herb itself along with sumac, sesame seeds, and salt.
Labneh is yogurt "cheese." It's made by straining the water from full fat yogurt until it resembles a thick spreadable cheese -- like cream cheese or ricotta -- but with an über tangy taste of yogurt. In this recipe, labneh pairs nicely with the earthy beets and the herbal spice mix. Labneh also works well as a dip for vegetables or spread onto bread.
The beets I used in this recipe -- from my farm share -- are an heirloom variety called Chioggia. Chioggia beets originated from a fishing village near Venice with the same name, and were brought to the US by immigrants in the 1800s. This variety has beautiful red and white rings. You can find these gorgeous beets at a local farmers market, but any old beet will work for this recipe.
Roasted beets with labneh and za’atar
1 bunch beets, greens reserved for another use
Extra-virgin olive oil (the good stuff), to taste
1 tablespoon za’atar spice mix*
½ cup labneh
Lemon juice, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Place the beets, scrubbed but with their skin on, in an oven-safe baking dish with a lid. Fill the dish with about 1 cm of water. Cover the dish, place it in the oven and roast until the beets are tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour for medium-sized beets. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Peel beets. (Peels should slip off pretty easily.) Slice the beets into wedges. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and the za’atar spice mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, make the labneh sauce. Mix the labneh with a drizzle of olive oil and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Thin with a little water until you get a spreadable consistency. Season to taste with salt.
- Spread the labneh sauce onto the plates in a circle. Arrange the beet slices on top. Add a handful of greens, if you'd like.
*Note: You can find the spice mix online or at specialty food stores like Kalustyan's in New York.
Other dishes with this farm share box:
Stuffed bell peppers
Shaved celery salad
French lentil salad with fennel