Old Friends and New Tricks

As if the gods are trying to tell me something after my earlier post about how bad my memory is, who should show up at my doorstep last week but my best friend from high school, Lise, to remind me of all the things I've forgotten. Lise arrived at our school in grade 10, all Toronto sophistication, not entirely pleased to find herself plopped down in the middle of the prairies through no fault of her own. I was in awe of her -- her confidence, her seemingly constant good mood, her energy.

Our reunion consisted of 18 hours of almost constant laughter with a short interruption for sleep. We relived all the lost stories from high school -- weekend ski trips with my family, torturing my little sister, her penchant for finding boyfriends to renovate, our embarrassing crushes, her love of my mom's chicken curry, etc. We talked, too, about our divorces and our kids and the problems that come with adulthood.

The thing about Lise is that when she gets an idea, she just does it -- not in a flaky, impulsive way, but in a "there's no reason I shouldn't be able to do this so let's just roll up our sleeves and figure out how to make it happen" way. I was always amazed by this, being, on the contrary, a person who needs to mull things over for a long time -- forever sometimes -- only acting when someone prods me into it. Writing this book, for example -- how many of you have urged me to do it since I started the blog two years ago? And I sat, not knowing how to start, until a literary agent approached me with a plan. Seeing Lise, full of energy and ideas, made me realize I need to channel more of her in my approach to the world.

One of the things I had forgotten about our high school days is that Lise and I used to cook together. Lise loved the idea of having dinner parties, something that it had never occurred to me to do because it seemed so grown up. But we used to cook together, and have people over, and she was always so at ease being a host. I can't for the life of me remember what we cooked, but I remember well her mom's kitchen, and the whirlwind of energy who kept me company there.

Roasted Beet Salad
Serves 4

If you prefer, you can replace the goat's milk lebneh with a very creamy goat cheese -- I get one from a local farm that has the consistency of thick yogurt. All the steps of this salad can be done in advance and assembled at the last minute, making it perfect for a dinner party. Especially if Lise is the guest of honor.

1-1/2 c goat milk yogurt
2 thick slices of day-old, hearty bread (Italian or French loaf)
a large handful of flat-leaf parsley, minced very finely
a large handful of mint, minced very finely
1 plump clove of garlic, minced very finely
1 TB extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to drizzle
2 medium-to-large beets
1 large yellow or sweet onion
juice of one lemon
sea salt and pepper

1. Place a coffee filter in a fine-meshed strainer and set over a bowl. Put the yogurt in the strainer and let the whey drain out for at least 6 hrs or overnight in the refrigerator. You're essentially making goat's milk lebneh.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash beets well and wrap each in tin foil. Place wrapped beets and whole onion on a baking tray in the heated oven. Roast onion for about 45 minutes until the outside is charred and the interior is completely soft; roast beets for about an hour, or until they can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and let cool. (This can be done in advance.)

2. Tear up bread and place in the bowl of a food processor. Process into coarse crumbs. Combine crumbs, herbs, and garlic in a small bowl. Heat 1 TB olive oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat (preferably non-stick); when hot, add crumb mixture and a good pinch of salt and sauté until they are crisp and browned. Set aside. (This can be done in advance.)

3. When you're ready to serve, peel and slice the beets into thin rounds (1/8" thick) on four individual salad plates. Squeeze lemon juice on the beets. Cut off the stem end of the onion and squeeze from the root end to pop out the soft onion flesh; cut into rough strips and place a bit on top of the beets on each plate. Place a heaping tablespoon of the goat's milk lebneh on each plate. Sprinkle sea salt and grind pepper on top, then drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Top each plate with a generous amount of bread crumbs.


Unknown said…
This dish was fabulous! So worth the 20 years in the making! The lebneh was a delisious plus to the salad. Cudos to the chef!
Ape Claire said…
Two years! About time I tried a recipe rather than just enjoying the words. This seems a good place to start...