After my first week in Rabat, I’m enamored with my access to fantastic produce here. It’s actually the opposite of Costco and despite my love for Costco, I really enjoy my local produce stand.
About two to three times a week, I leave our apartment and walk three blocks to pay a visit to our produce man. It’s a moment that makes me feel like I’m on Sesame Street. He sees me coming, waves, and smiles. Then, it is a tasting, smiling, language lesson, produce extravaganza. Even after a short week, the owner already knows I have my staples, tomatoes, peaches, zucchini, peppers, onions and parsley. We always start with tomatoes, and he knows I’m going to take 5 (“khamsa”) of those. As he counts out the staples, he offers me tastes of the fruits de jour, fresh green figs, cherries, persimmons, and other fruits I don’t even recognize. He teaches me the names of fruits in French and Darija and this my favorite part of produce shopping. It’s my Sesame Street moment — I’m trying new foods, meeting my neighbors, and learning a new language all at the same time.
Do I worry about not washing the fruit? No, I don’t. Maybe I should be worried, but I just taste away. It’s awesome. I’m willing to admit that I am wearing rose-colored glasses because I’m still in the early stages of infatuation with my new home city, but I plan to bask in it while it lasts!
My last shopping excursion resulted in some beautiful beets. I roasted the beets and paired them with a warm lentil salad for lunch. It wasn’t the quickest recipe because the beets take about an hour to roast, but it was fresh and filling. The lentil salad holds up very well and transports easily for lunch.
WARM LENTIL SALAD WITH ROASTED BEETS
3 medium to large beets
1 cup green lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoon dried thyme, divided
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 fresh chili pepper, chopped (optional)
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup good olive oil, plus a little more for drizzling on the beets
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
Pre-heat oven to 375F. Wash and scrub the beets. Drizzle the beets with olive oil, wrap each beet in foil and roast in oven for 45-60 minutes, until the beets are tender. When the beets are tender, take them out of the oven, let them rest for 10 minutes, then peel and cut with a fork and knife to avoid staining your fingers (Thanks to Julie for this tip!). I recommend doing this on a plate rather than a cutting board so you don’t stain your cutting board either.
While the beets are roasting, get started on the lentils. In a medium pot, heat the broth, lentils, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon of thyme, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then let the lentils simmer, uncovered for about 20-25 minutes until they are tender but not over cooked and mushy.
When the lentils are ready, drain and set aside. Then, in the same pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, carrots and chili pepper, if using. Sauté lightly, until the onions are softened. The carrots will still be crunchy, but lose their raw edge, and this is the way I like them for the lentil salad. (If you want your carrots cooked through, stagger the timing and put the onions in first, cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the carrots and cook for 3-5 minutes before adding the garlic and chili pepper. You could also use raw carrots if that’s your preference.) Once the onions are soft, add the cooked lentils, stir everything together and cook for another minute, then remove from heat and place the lentil mixture into a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar, ¼ cup of olive oil, mustard, honey and remaining 1 teaspoon of thyme until the dressing is emulsified. Mix the cucumbers, parsley, and cilantro into the lentils and drizzle the dressing over to coat everything evenly. Salt and pepper to taste.
When the beets are peeled and sliced, arrange the slices on a plate and top with the lentil salad. I think this dish is at it’s best just slightly warmer than room temperature. Enjoy!