The Middle

Wait a sec, where did July go? July is the cream in the center of the summer cookie, and it seems I’ve licked it clean. It’s been a tasty month, not to worry. July started with a few days up in York Harbor, Maine, at Sylvie’s in-laws, where we spent the mornings tag-teaming crossword puzzles, eating cherries, and vying for the best reading seats on the wraparound porch.

Mid-month, some friends went out of town, and we jumped at the chance to enjoy their CSA share for that week. I’m used to my share coming in a box, but theirs, through Red Fire Farms, is set up is like a mini-farmer’s market: you pick your own veggies to match the allotment for the week. The produce was really exquisite, and, as a Western Mass native, I was delighted to learn their farms are located in Granby and Montague. I advised the two women running the stand to make sure to get to Montague this summer, even if to take an afternoon off for lunch and a visit to The Book Mill.

So we started the month out of town and with an empty fridge and ended up with a bounty. Pounds of carrots filled my crispers, and beets and their thick green leaves poked out of my middle shelves whenever I opened the door. My cupboard barely shut with the piles of potatoes July was offering us. I panicked for just a second, not knowing what to do with all the vegetables. But then it dawned on me that I had all the ingredients for my very favorite beet salad, a salad, I realized with some embarrassment, that I had never shared on this blog.

Beet vinaigrette, along with Salad Olivier, is a Russian salad I enjoyed at my best friend’s house growing up. (Sure, she’s originally from Latvia, but this seems to be a catch-all Baltic dish. At some point I’ll get Salad Olivier up on the blog. Love that salad. Love it, love it.) The recipe I use, and the one my mom uses, is from Spice and Spirit cookbook, that purple cookbook with the perfect hamentashen dough recipe. The authors note that this salad is often served “as a side dish at a Kiddush” which makes sense because it’s a cold dish that can be made ahead or assembled from ingredients cooked before Shabbos.

Sure, boiling potatoes and cooking beets takes some time, but I prepped all the vegetables for this salad over a few days. Although the recipe calls for boiling the beets, potatoes and carrots all in one pot, a few days ago I grabbed the beets that were in the fridge, cut off the greens (and set them aside for some nice sautés with garlic, maybe some ginger) gave them a rinse, and placed them into a lasagna pan (something that had sides). I filled the pan with about a half inch of water, covered and sealed the entire pan with foil, and tossed it all in a 400 degree heated oven for an hour or so. I knew they were done when a fork easily slid in and out of them. When the beets were cooled down, I tossed them into a bowl, covered them, and put them in the fridge. For the past few days, I’ve grabbed a beet or two, run them under cold water which allowed their skin to easily slip away, and added them to salads and dishes. Couldn’t be easier.

Last night I peeled some potatoes and carrots and set them in a large pot of water that I brought to a boil as I sat and watched the Olympics in the other room. Again, couldn’t be easier. So even though the beets, carrots and potatoes had to be cooked beforehand, the actual assembling of this salad took just a minute or two. I have a friend whose Mom is Hungarian, and I’ve noticed that she tends to keep boiled potatoes on-hand in the fridge at all times. It really does make putting together a meal a snap.

Classic Beet Vinaigrette

The amount here is massive and can feed a dozen. Feel free to halve, or even quarter, this recipe. I also tend to always have red onion on-hand, so I usually sub that in for the scallions, making this a pretty dandy pantry recipe for the summer or winter.

Ingredients

8 medium potatoes

3 carrots

6 medium beets

4 scallions (or a quarter of a red onion)

3 sour pickles (I actually prefer dill in this recipe)

Dressing

1 Tablespoon salt

3 Tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup vinegar or lemon juice (I enjoy balsamic in this recipe)

¼ cup oil

¼ tsp. pepper

Directions

Scrub potatoes, carrots, and beets and place in a 4-quart pot. Cover vegetables with water and cook until soft. Potatoes and carrots will become tender before the beets. Remove them and continue to cook beets.

Let vegetables cool, and peel; cut potatoes and beets into cubes. Peel and dice carrots, scallions and pickles and then mix all vegetables together in a large mixing bowl.

Mix together dressing ingredients, add to vegetables and toss well. Potatoes will take on red appearance. Chill and serve.

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Wednesday Morning

At 7:53 Wednesday morning, I took the photo over here on the left. I’ve read that many bloggers prefer taking their pictures in the morning light, but I must admit that I wasn’t thinking about the sunlight. All I could think about was my lunch. It had been the third day in a row of the exact same thing and I could have eaten it all week. The day before, my lunch only lasted in the work fridge until 10:30, then I had to go and get it. So I’ve decided it’s time for a new category on Cheap Beets: My Lunchbox.

Lately, I’ve fallen into bean salads. I soak a cup of beans overnight in a bowl on the counter, cook them in the pressure cooker, and once they’ve cooled down, store them in the fridge until I need them. Of course, you could just open a can of white beans and be done with it.

That cup of beans was enough for three separate lunches for me, so whenever you are ready to make this — it can be packed the night before — I’d suggest using about six ounces of beans.

To those beans, depending on the season, toss in what veggies you have lying around, about a quarter of a cup. Maybe some halved cherry tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, or some steamed broccoli. On top of that I added about a quarter of a red onion which I toasted in the toaster oven at 400F for 8 or so minutes, as I’d learned from Abby’s amazing Tarragon bean salad.

But on top of all that — and what had me digging out the camera at that hour — I draped these zucchini pickles. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with these when I saw the recipe, but I knew they had to be made. Sweet, sour and salty, these chartreuse pickles would work well on a burger, meat or veggie. I had seen these tossed by their creator, Jason Neroni of L.A.’s Osteria La Buca, with radicchio (which he soaked to take out some of the bite), mint, parsley, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and olives.

The dressing for the whole bean, veggie and roasted onion salad was a very simple vinaigrette, two parts olive oil to one part red wine vinegar, a chopped clove of garlic, pinch of salt, teaspoon of agave nectar, shaken with a dash of mustard to emulsify.

Bread and Butter Zucchini Pickles

From The Tasting Table, which adapted this recipe from Jason Neroni of L.A.’s Osteria La Buca


1 zucchini, sliced into 1/8 inch-thick discs (a mandolin works best for this)

1 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon turmeric

1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds

1/4 cup salt

Place the zucchini in a heat-proof, lidded container (I use a cleaned out pickle jar, as a matter of fact)

In a medium saucepan, combine the white wine vinegar, sugar, 1/4 cup salt, turmeric and mustard seeds and bring to a boil. Pour the hot mixture over the zucchini slices. Cover the container and refrigerate the pickles overnight.