Brightening Up The Winter Table

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Cooking With Sweet, Savory, Adaptable Beets

Los Angeles Times photo by Kirk McKoy

Beets can be boring, I’m told, but I find them great fun to play with. Despite having their own earthy, distinct taste, beets readily take on flavors from pepper and vinegar to oranges and vanilla. They are lovely grated or shaved raw into salads and soups, they can be boiled or steamed, and they taste great when baked and tossed with anything from a lively vinaigrette to plain old butter and salt.

When I roast whole, unpeeled beets, I usually cook a whole bunch at once. When cool, the skins slip off with ease and the newly naked roots can be refrigerated for several days or frozen until you want to use them (up to 3 months or so). Golden beets are less messy to handle (red beet juice dyes everything in sight) yet just as flavorful as the red ones, so use those in all the same recipes if you prefer.

Refreshing Winter Fare

Winter food can be heavy and even faintly depressing, so it’s great to have a few recipes that give winter classics a twist up your sleeve. This pretty salad combines good looks with vivid flavors, especially when you use crunchy apples like Fuji or Pink Lady.

French Winter Beet Salad

1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1/2 cup fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup stemmed flat Italian parsley
1 cup walnut halves, toasted
1 1/2 cups cooked beets, diced
2 crisp apples, cored, pared and diced

In a jar, combine 1 teaspoon lemon rind, the vinegar, oil, mustard, salt, and pepper. Cover tightly, shake well to emulsify and set aside. In a serving bowl, toss the apples gently with lemon juice. Add beets and walnuts, toss again with dressing and serve, garnished with parsley. Serves at least one.

Sort-a-Sweet Beet Treats

Roasting awakens the latent sweetness in almost anything, and beets are no exception. After all, they are the source of a lot of (admittedly cheap and not-for-the-hummingbirds) sugar, right? The roasted cranberries provide a fantastic contrast to beets, as well as most other vegetables, notably Brussels sprouts, roasted cabbage quarters, and sweet potatoes.

Roasted Beets And Cranberries

2 teaspoons safflower oil
3 cooked, peeled beets, coarsely chopped
1 cup raw cranberries (frozen work fine)
sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Pour oil into a rimmed baking sheet and gently toss beets and cranberries to coat. Sprinkle with salt and roast at 400 degrees until caramelized (more or less, depending on your taste preference). Check them after 20 minutes and every 5 minutes after that until they are perfect. Serve hot. Serves 2-4.

Ginger Up Your Beets

Matchstick cut (julienned) vegetables make this spunky salad especially attractive, while crisp apples, sweet oranges, and salty toasted cashews offset the tangy ginger. Serve this with grilled salmon or roasted eggplant to give a plain meal a lift.

Gingered Beet Salad

1/3 cup plain rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 organic orange, sectioned, rind grated
3 cooked beets, peeled, julienned
1 plump carrot, julienned
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 Opal or Honeycrisp apple, cored and diced
1/4 cup toasted cashews

In a serving bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, ginger, garlic, salt, and orange rind. Add beets, carrot, celery, and apple, gently toss with dressing and serve, garnished with cashews. Serves 4-6.

Spunky Beet Soup

This toothsome soup is a tasty takeoff on classic Borscht, with slightly caramelized onions for a touch of sweetness and lemon juice and zest for a tart counterpoint (and kale because it’s irresistibly green and fresh right now). Serve this hearty entree with warm oatmeal muffins and a fresh green salad dressed with lemon-garlic dressing to unify the meal.

Lemony Oniony Beet Soup

4 beets (about 2 pounds), peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 organic lemons, juiced, rind grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large brown or yellow onions, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sugar (any kind)
1 bunch kale, stems trimmed, sliced in narrow ribbons
1/2 cup stemmed cilantro
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup Greek yogurt

Place beets in a soup pot with 6 cups water. Add half the garlic, half the lemon juice and rind, and half the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer until beets are fork tender (30-40 minutes). Meanwhile, heat oil and butter in a wide, shallow pan with onions over medium high heat. Sprinkle with sugar, remaining lemon rind, remaining garlic and salt and cook, stirring often, until golden brown (10-12 minutes) then reduce heat  to medium low until very soft (20-30 minutes). Add kale, cover pan and simmer until slightly wilted (6-8 minutes). Add cooked beets and broth, seasoning to taste with remaining lemon juice and pepper. Serve hot, garnished with green onions and yogurt. Serves 4-6.

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