Many moons ago, my sister lived in Morocco to learn Arabic and teach music in a school for the blind. Traveling to a foreign country with a native is perhaps the best way to see a country and avoid the tourist traps and scams. Traveling with my sister at the end of her year was a close second. She spoke (and read) the language fluently, which allowed us to navigate the country and menus quite easily.
When we’d go out to eat, I’d let her order. I recall one café... We placed the typical order, “jusz jasz”: two chickens. The waiter quoted us a price: 80 dirham. What?? My sister pointed to the Arabic menu and with a flawless accent and perfect grammar, she questioned, “But the menu says it’s only 20.”
Another favorite was the vegetable salad. Beets, potatoes and carrots were sautéed in fruity olive oil, seasoned with cumin, coriander and black pepper.
This year, I grew beets for the first time. As the British name, "beetroot," would suggest, they grow underground so it's not obvious when they're ready to harvest. One farmer advised to inspect the shoulders of the root which protrudes from the soil. When they are several inches in diameter, the beets are ready. Also, the leaves should be broad and long. I began harvesting the beets last week, and every time I dug one up, it seemed too small. Alas, once you harvest, you can’t put them back.
With my baby beets, I sautéed them with olive oil, cumin and coriander, and tossed them with mint: the perfume took me back to the summer with my sister, wandering the country together.
Moroccan Style Beet Salad with Mint
5 baby beets or 2 medium beets
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste
8 large mint leaves, cut into chiffonade
1. Put beets in a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil over high flame. Cover pot and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until beets are tender – a butter knife will insert easily.
2. Remove beets from heat and let cool. The skins should peel off easily.
3. Cut beets into 8th.
4. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium flame. Add cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Cook until spices become aromatic. Add the beets, and warm through, tossing to coat in scented oil.
5. Remove from heat and serve. Sprinkle mint on top, and a squeeze of lemon.