Beet salads are frequently paired with something acidic to cut through the sweetness of the vegetable: goat cheese, yogurt, or a bright, citrusy vinaigrette. This recipe takes a different approach, using the slight bitterness of tehina to tame the sugar and heighten the earthiness of the beets. The combination is magical, capable of casting a spell on people who normally don't like beets. This beet salad is one of a handful of dishes that have been on the Zahav menu every day since we opened—we should post a sign that says, "Over half a million served."
The simple tehina sauce is one of my basic building blocks and is so versatile that once you master it, there are a million things you can do with it. The important step here is to allow the garlic and lemon juice to hang out for ten minutes after blending but before adding the jarred tehina. This step helps stabilize the garlic and prevents it from fermenting and turning sour and aggressive, which is the problem with a lot of tehina sauces (and therefore the hummus made from them).
Because you're making an emulsion (oil-based tehina incorporated into water and lemon juice), the tehina sauce can sometimes separate or seize up. Don't panic! Keep a glass of ice water nearby and add a few tablespoons at a time to the lemon juice-tehina mixture while you're whisking, until your creamy emulsion returns.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spread 1 cup of the salt in an ovenproof skillet or baking dish. Put the beets on the salt and cover with the remaining 4 cups salt. Bake until the beets are tender, about 90 minutes.2.
While the beets are baking, make the sauce: Break up the head of garlic with your hands, letting the unpeeled cloves fall into a blender. Add the lemon juice and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Blend on high for a few seconds until you have a coarse puree. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes to let the garlic mellow.3.
Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large mixing bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Add the tahini to the strained lemon juice in the bowl, along with the cumin and 1 teaspoon of the salt.4.
Whisk the mixture together until smooth (or use a food processor), adding ice water, a few tablespoons at a time, to thin it out. The sauce will lighten in color as you whisk. When the tahini seizes up or tightens, keep adding ice water, bit by bit (about 1½ cups in total), whisking energetically until you have a perfectly smooth, creamy, thick sauce.5.
Taste and add up to 1 ½ teaspoons more salt and cumin if you like. If you’re not using the sauce immediately, whisk in a few extra tablespoons of ice water to loosen it before refrigerating. The tahini sauce will keep a week refrigerated, or it can be frozen for up to a month.6.
When the beets are cool enough to handle, remove the beets from the salt and peel. Set them aside to cool completely.7.
Grate the beats into a mixing bowl using the coarse holes of a box grater. Add the tahini sauce, lemon juice, dill, and mint and season with ½ teaspoon salt. Mix well to blend. Top with more chopped dill and mint and serve at room temperature or cold.