Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Arab Delights with Real Beets

 [photo: Clifford A. Wright]

I'm sure I'm not the only one who discovered at some point in their lives that a real roasted red beet root is a far cry from anything popped from a can.  In fact, as far as I'm concerned they are two separate foods. 

A favorite food of mine is an Arab dish of red beets popular in Lebanon and Palestine called Shamandar bi’l-Laban in Arabic.

Red Beets with Yogurt
When I first encountered this Lebanese preparation, called shamandar bi’l-laban, I was quite taken with the appetizing color.  But upon tasting it I couldn’t believe how good it was--how natural beets, yogurt, and mint seemed even though I’m not sure it would have occurred to me.  This dish can also be made with silq, that is, “white beets” more commonly known as chard.
2 pounds beets, with their leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large garlic cloves, pounded in a mortar with 1/2 teaspoon salt until mushy
2 heaping tablespoons strained yogurt (called labna or lubny) (see Note below)
1 1/2 cups whole plain yogurt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1. Steam or boil the beet leaves over high heat until wilted, about 10 minutes.  Remove and drain.  Steam the roots until easily pierced by a skewer, about 30 minutes.  Drain and let cool.  Cut the leaves into strips and arrange by spreading them on a serving plate.  Peel the beets and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices.  Arrange the beetroot slices on top of the leaves.  Season with salt and pepper.
2. Stir the garlic paste and labna into the yogurt and beat for 1 minute with a fork.  Spread the yogurt over the beets and garnish the top with the mint.
Makes 6 serving 

Note:  Strained yogurt (labna or lubny) is sold in Middle Eastern markets and better supermarkets such as Whole Foods.  You can make it at home easily enough: place a good quality whole plain yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined strainer and let rest over a deep bowl to drain overnight.  The resulting yogurt in the strainer is called labna.


  1. We tried this last night, with some modification due to lack of labna combined with inability to garnish. The mint is quite good when mixed in, though, and the dinner guests graciously claimed to prefer it that way.

    The photo, although attractive, doesn't match the end of step 2 as described, which has the yogurt mixture go on top of the beets rather than underneath. I wonder if it tastes any different ...

  2. Yeah, I know. For a photograph, the yogurt on top makes everything too white.