Smoke TreeWhen Richard was visiting, his cousin Nick often showed up around dinnertime.

One night, we were planning a simple summer meal—BLTs: bacon, garden lettuce and heirloom tomatoes with Belgian mayonnaise on toast. When Richard said, “Can Nick come for dinner?” I automatically said, “Sure,” but then wondered how I was going to make the menu stretch to fill not one but two young men—without a trip to the grocery store.

The refrigerator was looking pretty sparse, but there was an eggplant. The wheels started turning. I sliced the eggplant lengthwise, interspersed the slices with the bacon strips, put the trays into the oven, and baked them at 400 degrees. The bacon fat started melting, sizzling into the eggplant. When it was time to flip the bacon, I flipped the eggplant too.

It was a perfect marriage: Crisp bacon, melt-in-your-mouth eggplant, tender lettuce, and juicy tomatoes. Nick even came up with a catchy name…a “Belt Sandwich.” At first, I didn’t get it. Then he said, “Bacon Eggplant Lettuce and Tomato, B-E-L-T.”

When I was a child, the one vegetable I wouldn’t eat was beetroot, as in Grammy Wrobleski’s pickled beets. Luckily, I grew out of that aversion.

It all started in the garden, well, actually, the garden seed catalog. The red and white rings of the Chioggia beet looked so beautiful in the catalog that I couldn’t resist. I branched out to Bull’s Blood, then Golden. Along the way, I boiled beets, roasted beets, sliced and chopped cooked and chilled beets, pickled raw beets and other vegetables, and tossed beet greens into salads. My daughter Marina even made a chocolate mint beet mousse pie. I’m one of those obnoxious converts—I love beets.

Early this summer, I was chatting with a gardening buddy and the conversation, as it often does, slid from the soil to the kitchen. I was detailing the steps of some beet recipe when Sharon said, “My favorite way to eat beets is to grate them raw into a salad.”

“You just eat them raw? You don’t cook them or anything?”

“Yes, I just grate them. Raw, like a carrot.”

Simple. It was so simple. Why hadn’t I ever thought of it?

Well, this summer I’ve been making up for lost time. I wash the fresh beet. If it has brown, sunburned shoulders I trim that skin off, but other than that, I just slide the beet down the grater until I have a haystack of ruby, peppermint striped, or golden beets. Next, I chop a Poona Kheera cucumber and put a layer on each salad plate. Then, I scoop a generous portion of the grated beets and place it on top of the bed of cucumber. I drizzle with salad dressing or just a splash of vinegar and a crackle of pepper. Simple, elegant, and oh, so healthy.

I made the raw beet-cucumber salad for my sister Lee Ann when she came for a weekend. She liked it so much that she shared her favorite sandwich recipe. The other night I tried it, and I must say it is another simple summer meal that will become a standard.

Bleu Portabella Burgers

Onions or shallots

1 Portabella Mushroom Cap per person

Blue Cheese

Salad Leaf Basil or Lettuce

Toasted Bread or Roll

Caramelize chopped shallots in olive oil. Remove from pan. Add a little more olive oil and place the Portabella mushroom in the pan, smooth side up. Cook for a few minutes; then flip. Place shallots in the “cup” of the mushroom, top with blue cheese, cover, and cook until tender.

Slide mushroom onto a slice of toast, add several Salad Leaf Basil leaves, and top with another slice of toast. Perfect with an ear or two of sweet corn on the cob.

Keep it simple. Laurie Lynch

Written in Slate: Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder. –Rumi

Fleur-de-Up: The photo accompanying this blog is of a home I pass while riding through Lemont. The color of the floral panicles on the smoketrees echo the trim of the dormer window. Stunning. Cotinus obovatus is native to the United States and has brilliant fall foliage.

Fleur-de-Down: I bought a watermelon over the weekend at our local Amish farmers market. When I got it home, I saw the tiny sticker that said: Product of the EU. Are you kidding me?




2 thoughts on “Fleur-de-Simple

  1. I love beets too. But I need to learn how to grow sweet ones. Do you pick them when they’ve grown themselves out of the ground? Or should they stay in longer? I did read recently that they need regular watering. I wasn’t doing that; I depend mostly on just rain.
    I once put chopped beets into a chocolate cake. People thought the bits were choc. chips.

  2. Yes, when they stick their shoulders up out of the ground. I do like mine on the smaller side. This summer I’ve had to give supplemental water to the entire garden–not just the beets. I was told recently that the recipe for Red Velvet Cake isn’t authentic if it doesn’t include beet juice!

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