Waiel Majid, chef of the now-closed Berkeley restaurant Zatar, grew up near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq, where he recalls that plants would self-sow in the riverbed in the summertime when the water level would drop and the sandy, fertile bank would widen. Suddenly eggplant, squash, and tomato plants would emerge like magic. Locals would camp on the riverbank to escape the summer heat, and for meals, would harvest vegetables straight from their productive picnic site. Roasting them over an open fire, the foragers would mix them into spreads with homemade yogurt and enjoy them with freshly baked bread. 

Serves 4–6

1 quart homemade or good quality European/Greek-style yogurt
4–6 medium-sized beets
Rind and juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
¼ cup Italian parsley and/or mint, chopped

Drain yogurt overnight in cheesecloth. Boil beets until tender, then peel and shred once they are cooled down. Fold shredded beets into drained yogurt along with lemon juice, lemon rind, garlic, olive oil, and a dash of salt and pepper. Chill for at least 1 hour. Garnish with fresh parsley and/or mint and serve with fresh, warm flat bread.

Photo by Sofie Maher