Saturday, 31 January 2015

Shamandar: beetroot salad with yogurt tahini dressing

Shamandar: beetroot salad with yoghurt tahini dressing

Beetroot is a vegetable I discovered (and loved) relatively late. In fact it doesn't belong to the culinary tradition of the Italian region I come from, the Marche region. At least until my twenties, when I moved to North of Italy (where instead beetroot are more common), I thought that beets were used just to make sugar (as farmers in my area, including my grandfather, used to grow only the sugar beets) but I had no idea of the existence of other edible varieties. And also, after discovering the table beetroot, it was not love at first sight. Because actually the first beets I tried were the pre-cooked ones sold in supermarkets in vacuum-sealed plastic packages: not that delicious, to be honest! But finally I had ash-roasted beetroot - some farmers use to make and sell, but I could also found them in some vegetable shops - and realized how good they can taste (even better than oven roasted as the flavor is more concentrated and with a light smoked taste). Since then my liking for beets has progressively increased. I have had, both at restaurants and at home, many different dishes made using beets, sometimes as main ingredient, other times mixed with different things: salads (one recipe I love here), risotto, soups, spreads (like this beetroot hummus), drinks, even cakes (beets and chocolate go particularly well together) . And I am always curious to try new ways of preparing and serving them. Middle Eastern cuisine - that I am enjoying much lately, also making some recipes at home - makes a quite extensive use of beets (and I am very glad of this), especially in salads, sides, and mezze, the Middle Eastern appetizer, in which a selection of different dishes are spread on the table for sharing among guests. One dish usually served as part of mezze is Shamandar, a sort of dip made of diced beets in a tahini (a paste made from ground, hulled sesame seeds) and yogurt dressing. 
In the traditional recipe beetroot are boiled while the dressing is made mixing yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, oil and garlic. To make it at home I followed Suzanne Husseini(1) recipe, a variation on the traditional one: beets are baked instead of boiled (this is actually my favorite cooking method for beets) and orange juice and zest are added to the dressing. The result is delicious, with the sweetness of beetroot balanced by the earthy flavor of tahini and the tartness of citrus and yogurt. And the color is absolutely amazing!

(1).Suzanne Husseini is a a television food celebrity in the Middle East, chef on various regional TV shows and author of the cookbooks "When Suzanne Cooks" (that is the book I own) and "Modern Flavors of Arabia". Her recipes are traditional Arabic recipes, that she learnt from her family, usually with a modern, original twist.

Shamandar: beetroot salad with yoghurt tahini dressing
adapted from "When Suzanne cooks" by Suzanne Husseini
serves 4 to 6
6 medium beetroot
40 ml yogurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed (I used only 1)
2 tablespoons tahini
pinch of cumin
juice and zest of 1 lemon
juice and zest of 1/2 orange
sea salt
mint leaves to garnish
extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Trim the beetroots stalks, wash well the beetroot, dry and coat with olive oil. Wrap each one individually in aluminum foil, place on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hour or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Then peel the cooked beetroot (using some gloves may be a good idea), dice finely and place in a bowl.
Mix the yogurt, garlic, tahini, cumin, zest, lemon and orange juice and salt to make a dressing. Pour over the diced beetroot and mix to combine well.
Place in shallow serving dishes, drizzle on some olive oil and garnish with mint leaves. 


  1. I had same salad recently at Le meridien hote in greek restaurant called acropolis.

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