When life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. When life gives you apples, you should eat them any way you can, and not just to keep the doctor away. I’ve discovered that like most edible things, the apples that taste the sweetest are those that you’ve watched grow on a tree in your backyard all summer. It’s almost a miracle, really, that sweet, ripe fruit can grow in a place where the misty grey cloud coverage persists for about two thirds of the year, but my two little apple trees do their very best to concentrate each drop of summer sunshine into fruit until their scrawny little branches grow tired and heavy with the weight of dozens of green and red tart apples every September.
I’m not sure what variety the apples are, but I don’t really care all that much. One tree produces a modest crop of fruity, sweet green apples that are prone to brown spots on the skin, but taste delicious. The other tree nearly triples his neighbors’ output, with sour, green-tinged apples blushing red. Both varieties are deliciously crisp and juicy eaten raw, but brown very quickly upon cutting, not that it matters to me. They are free, delicious, organic apples from my backyard.
Just a couple hours’ drive from Seattle is where the real apple growing happens. In fact, billions of apples are grown each year in sunny Eastern Washington, for export all around the world. However, the farthest distance I export my apples is to my cutting board inside.
For a refreshing first course, this raw apple and beet salad hits the spot. It sings of early fall, where sunny, 65°F days don’t necessitate comforting stews, roasts or braises yet, but the local apples and root vegetables have arrived again, signaling the impending change of seasons. Roasted beets are mighty tasty, but like kale, beets deserve a chance to be enjoyed raw too. Try taking a break from the usual roasting routine; when served uncooked, beets are mild and crunchy, without the sometimes overpoweringly earthy sweetness of their cooked counterparts, which can turn some people off (my eight-year-old self included).
All I did was slice the bright, raw beets and juicy, crisp apples paper thin and arrange them casually on plates, drizzle it all with a garlicky olive oil yogurt dressing and a sprinkle of herbaceous za’atar, the ubiquitous condiment of the Arab world. Do apples fresh picked from the tree need all this adornment? Of course not, but it doesn’t get much easier, fresher or tastier than this. Unless you have a lemon tree that is…
· Apples are an excellent source of cholesterol-controlling fiber, are fat-free and sodium-free and a great source of antioxidants. Studies suggest that eating apples may reduce the risk of cancer, therefore, keeping the doctor away!
· Beets bright color comes from betalains, powerful pigments that reduce oxidative stress, which is thought to contribute to the development many diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s. Betalains are water-soluble and heat sensitive; eating raw beets preserves the color and nutritional benefits.
Raw Apple & Beets with Yogurt Aioli and Za’atar
Thin red onion slices would also be lovely in this zippy salad. For those new to my blog, check out this previous post on lebneh and za’atar. I call the dressing “yogurt aioli”, because it is thick and creamy, yet bold and garlicky with lots of extra virgin olive oil flavor. I imagine one could get a similar effect with pureed silken tofu for a vegan variation.
Serves 4 as a first course
2 tablespoons plain yogurt or lebneh
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small clove garlic, minced
Salt to taste
1 medium apple, thinly sliced (a tart variety, such as Granny Smith, Braeburn or Gravenstein)
1 medium beet, thinly sliced
Za’atar to taste
Chiffonade of fresh basil, cilantro, parsley or mint for garnish
Make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt or lebneh, olive oil, garlic and a pinch of salt. Dip an apple slice in the dressing and taste the dressing for seasoning; adjust if necessary.
Assemble. Layer the apple and beet slices on the serving platter or plates. Drizzle with the dressing and garnish generously with za’atar and fresh herbs. Serve immediately.