Of all the combinations of flavor and texture that one may experience around the Mediterranean rim, the salads of Morocco are among the brightest surprises. There are scores these side dishes, which vary by region and season—indeed, from house to house. Moroccan salads may include any or all of these: sugar, distilled orange-blossom water, cinnamon, cumin, caraway, saffron, cilantro, parsley, mint, red onions, chillies, or a few drops of argan oil (expressed from pits of the fruit of Argania spinosa, a desert tree indigenous to Morocco.)
Beets and oranges are a favorite pairing; depending on a cook’s whim, the two might also be combined with other vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, peppers, or turnips).
Interesting and delicious as these North African permutations are, we think Florida’s late winter citrus and local beets are best appreciated with just a few adornments. (Whoever said that flavorful greens and root-crops can’t be grown in the sandy soils of the Sunshine State has not sought out the beets of Florida’s farmer’s markets. Our source says that his are harvested in the area around Lake Okeechobee.)
Dressed simply with olive oil and lemon juice, this gorgeous salad is easy to prepare and complements grilled fish, poultry, or meat equally well. Try to use an orange cultivar that has few seeds and is easy to peel. For maximum color contrast, crimson beets are our choice. (Be sure to save the greens and stems to stir-fry or add to soups).
The spirit of Morocco and the taste of our our local produce both come through in this dish.
Beet and Orange Salad
1 lb Crimson beets (Skins left on; tops removed & saved for another use)
1 lb Sweet oranges (Mineola, Honeybell, Temple, and tangelo work well)
Juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
2 Tbsp Olive oil
Black pepper, freshly and coarsely ground
1/2 Tbsp Sweet-hot paprika, or to taste (see note)
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2-3 Tbsp snipped spearmint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
Cook the beets, in their skins, until you can pierce one with a sharp knife blade. (We like a little resistance at the center.) Allow to cool and slip off the skins. Slice in rounds, 1/4 inch thick, and set aside.
Peel the oranges carefully, trying not to separate the segments. Remove as much of the membrane as you can. On a large plate (to catch the juice), cut the oranges across the segments into slices 1/2 — 1/4 inch thick. (Some slice more easily than others; save any “broken” segments.) Pick out any seeds. Reserve the juice to pour over the salad later.
On a clean platter, place any less-than-perfect pieces of orange and cover them with overlapping slices of beets and orange. Pour the excess orange juice over the beets.
20 minutes before serving, squeeze the juice of the lemon (or lime) over all. Drizzle on the oil and then sprinkle with salt, black peper, and the paprika (see note). Finely snip the mint over the entire platter. Garnish with a full sprig of mint.
Serves 2 — 4
Sihhateyin! Bon appetit!