We Got The Beet(s)
I love my little deck garden, where I grow everything from berries and greens to lilies and roses in big tree containers. However, there are things I really can’t grow practically in pots, and am fortunate to have generous friends who share the bounty of their larger gardens. I was recently given a bagful of beautiful beets and started flipping through cookbooks looking for inspiration.
The oldest cookbooks in my collection had a lot more variety than the contemporary ones, probably because root vegetables played a much bigger role in daily diets before modern grocery stores evolved. Even those, however, were limited to a few main themes (butter and sugar, vinegar and sugar, citrus and sugar…). The most interesting recent cookbooks (such as Plenty, by Yotam Ottolunghi) had a mere one or two recipes featuring beets, and most involved salads with goat cheese.
Fair enough, but I decided to experiment a bit to see what flavors might be coaxed from this under-appreciated vegetable. I started by scrubbing my lovely beets, trimming off all but an inch of the stems (my friend kept the gorgeous greens, and who can blame him?), then soaking the beets in cold water for an hour or so. This cold water soak helps plump up any plant-based food you plan to bake or roast, from kale to carrots, keeping it from dehydrating too quickly in a hot oven.
I learned long ago never to peel or chop raw beets, since they make an unholy mess, though baby beets can be shredded skin and all in a food processor for lovely relishes and salsas (with red onion, sweet peppers, and raw corn). Many recipes call for wrapping beets individually in foil, but this seems wasteful to me. Instead, I put whole beets into baking dishes, sorting them into like sizes. I cover each dish with foil (though casserole dishes with lids work well too) and bake my beets at 350 degrees F. In this case, I removed the dish of smaller beets after an hour and left the bigger ones in until fork tender (another 30 minutes).
Let The Revels Begin
The baked beets were now beautifully tender yet firm. When cool enough, I slipped off the skins, then sliced and diced them in batches of about two cups. My first trial involved double-roasting the baked beets with potatoes. They came out good but not great, though the slightly caramelized edges were very nice. Oh well. I read about a San Francisco chef who used a few drops of vanilla with her beets and though that sounded good, though I ended up adding sea salt and pepper as well. The result is amazingly delicious; first you get a bloom of vanilla sweetness, followed by a lasting bite of pepper. Good thing beets are healthy, because you can’t stop eating these little nuggets, which are awesome in salads or as garnish for anything grilled.
Beets With Vanilla and Pepper
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups diced cooked beets
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground, rather coarse black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil and butter over medium high heat until sizzling. Add beets, sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir to coat. Add sugar and water, cook until bubbly (less than a minute), remove from heat, add vanilla and stir to coat. Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes about 2 cups.
My next experiment involved Indian curry spices, dried apricots, and thick curls of unsweetened coconut (my favorite flaked coconut is from Bob’s Red Mill). The curried beets themselves are yummy in salads or as a side for grilled fish, but my whole household especially loved them in Chicken Beet Curry, with a sumptuous sauce of coconut milk stained rosy by the beet bits.
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 cup chopped dried apricots or dried cherries or raisins
2 limes, juiced, rind grated
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes
1 teaspoon each ground ginger, cumin, and coriander
2 cups cooked diced or sliced beets
In a saucepan, heat oil with dried fruit, lime rind, salt, hot pepper flakes and spices over medium heat, stirring often, until plumped and softened (8-10 minutes). Add beets, stir well to coat and cook for 10 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Chicken Beet Curry
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2-3 teaspoons garam masala (to taste)
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken, chopped
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups curried beets (see above)
1 large lime, quartered
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
In a large saucepan, heat oil with onion over medium high heat and cook, stirring, until lightly browned (8-10 minutes). Add celery, carrots, sea salt, garam masala and chicken, stir to coat, cover pan, reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is opaque (8-10 minutes). Add coconut milk and curried beets, bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Serve as soup or over brown rice, with a twist of lime and a dollop of yogurt. Serves 4.