A few rain-soaked snowflakes continue to fall in Portland as the temperatures remain shy about rushing towards spring. While the flakes were magical in early December, we're hungry for a color pop amongst the winter landscape in order to eek out these last few weeks of the season. Still enjoying all the beets and other roots vegetables that take center stage this time of year, we're getting eager to transition to lighter fare and approach things from a fresh perspective. Moving away from heavy roasted dishes and dreaming about some simply assembled meals that we normally share during warmer months, we set out to reexamine the mezze plate from a different viewpoint, using seasonal ingredients.
A mezze plate usually refers to an assortment of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean appetizers, often centering around a circular well of hummus. You might say that chickpeas used for hummus are always in season. This is where we were itching for a change and wanted to substitute something unexpected and vibrant. Have you been to the grocery store lately? There are beets, beets and more beets. So why not beet hummus?
That's not to say that we are altogether ready to abandon the chickpea. It has come through for us in many a pinch. Lately, one of our favorite snacks has been spicy roasted chickpeas. While munching on them and catching up on our winter reading, we kept coming across the topic of aquafaba, or literally the water that comes from cooking any legumes. It's filled with proteins and starches that mimic egg whites. It whips up to make an incredible vegan meringue, among many other things. In the recipe development of our beet hummus, we used aquafaba as an ode to the chickpea and as an ingredient to emulsify the pureed beets without weighing it down using oil. A dollop of tahini paste adds depth to the flavor, while a small scoop of harissa gives it some kick. The result is a light and fluffy hummus that still tastes rich.
Using a ring mold, you can spoon the beet hummus onto the plate to elevate the presentation of your dish. A mezze plate can be assembled with as many or as few components as you like. Ours is off to a simple start. We made a honey-rosemary syrup to drizzle over feta cheese to accompany the hummus and chick peas. You can also add pickled vegetables and other bite-sized morsels. Warmed flatbread or pita is a must to wipe up every last delicious smear on the plate. The mingling of spicy, creamy, earthy, and sweet on the bread is magic.
To make this mezze plate to serve four people as an appetizer, follow the recipes below:
4 small beets, trimmed and scrubbed
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup water
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup aquafaba*, add more if needed
1 tsp harissa
salt and pepper to taste
*aquafaba is the reserved liquid from canned or cooked beans
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place beets in medium-sized baking pan. Add garlic and bay leaves. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add water to the pan. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast beets for about 40 minutes before checking for doneness by inserted a paring knife into the center of each beet. The knife will pierce through easily when the beets are done. Otherwise, continue roasting and check again every 15 minutes until done. Add more water to pan if it begins to evaporate.
When beets are done, remove from oven and allow to cool. Discard roasting liquid, garlic, and bay leaves. Once beets are cool enough to handle, slice off the stem and root ends. Rub the skins off using a paper towel. To keep your hands from being stained, wear rubber gloves.
Purée beets and tahini in food processor. Slowly drizzle in aquafaba until smooth. Add more if mixture is still chunky. Add harissa and season with salt and pepper
1 15-oz can chickpeas, liquid reserved for Beet Hummus recipe
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
Rinse chickpeas and dry with a paper towel. Combine chickpeas, olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika and cumin in a bowl. Spread onto a baking sheet and place in the oven. Roast for about 15 minutes until golden and a little crisp.
FETA WITH ROSEMARY & HONEY
4 oz feta, sliced
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp rosemary, chopped
To prepare the feta recipe for the mezze plate, combine honey, water and rosemary in a small saucepan. Carefully bring to a boil and simmer for about 2 minutes. Allow to cool. Slice feta in desired sized pieces and reserve until assembling the plate.
To assemble the mezze plate pictured above, we used various sized ring molds to scoop the hummus into for a formal presentation. Mounding it on a plate or serving it in a bowl for a casual presentation is the more traditional option. We kept the chickpeas contained in a small bowl and assembled the feta on the plate before drizzling it with the honey rosemary mixture. Serve with plenty of warm flatbread or pita.