I’ll start this post off by saying that maybe I ought to just start a whole series of blog posts about root vegetables, because this one, in accompaniment with last weeks parsnip post, is definitely starting a trend (though, a part of it is just the time of year it is and the veggies that are currently available).
Oh beets, how much I can say about you. For a long while in my life I disliked beets, in part because my only experience with them was as home canned pickled beets (which in hindsight were not bad at all) that I had decided were undesirable, and yet ended up forced on me any way (note: “forced” is probably too strong a word. I was never locked in a cell, having pickled beets jammed in my mouth daily. It was more, that when they were served with dinner, I was reminded the merits of said beets, and strongly encouraged to consume them. Anyways, I digress). It would be some years later that I would finally come to the realization that A. not all beets need be pickled and B. beets are pretty flippin’ good. Since that time beets have been a regular staple in my diet.
Beets are a complex flavor which has often regulated them to the periphery of culinary vegetables. One friend of mine, not entirely inaccurately, says “they taste like dirt.” They are earthy, that is for sure. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that beets can epitomize the essence of what “earthy” means when using it as a flavor descriptor. They are also sweet, and crisp, and savory. There is a little bit of bitter in there as well. Overall they are bold and demanding, and if they are used in a dish they will make themselves known. Perhaps this is one of their problems too, they are a little too powerful for their own good.
And then there is the bleeding. Anyone who has experienced beets are probably very aware of their blood red color (there are in fact other colored beets, including beautiful golden fleshed ones, white beets, and the strange chiogga variety which have mixed bands of red and white). Not only is the flesh that deep rich red, but like the crimson bodily fluid, the beets, when cut, bleed happily . . . all over everything. The worst part is that this stain is absolute in many regards. If you get it on clothing you are probably going to have to deal with it (it can come out, but be prepared to work). Your hands will be blood red (making you appear to have been an accomplice in a particularly gruesome crime). The cutting board will be blood red (making it look like you are at least a decent enough criminal to keep your counters clean). Everything will be red. That is beets for you.
If you can overcome the bleeding, and get yourself used to the rich and earthy flavor, then beets can be a real treat. Personally I like them roasted, either alone, or with other root veggies (think, parsnips, carrots, turnips, etc.), with just a bit of olive oil and, if available, some fresh rosemary. They can be good raw as well (though note, beets are high in oxalic acid, and too much can make your throat feel a bit sore). Also, borscht, the funky and exciting Russian beet soup, traditionally served cold with some plain yogurt, is wonderful.
Here is a simple dish that I prepare often with beets. It is quick and easy and only requires a few ingredients.
Citrus-Ginger Beet and Carrot Salad
- 3-4 Good sized beets (I like a mix of red and gold, not because of the color, which will just end up red, but because golden beets have a sweeter flavor compared to the red ones)
- 3-4 good sized carrots (you could go colored if you want, but, they’re just gonna turn red with everything else)
- One lemon (use a Meyer lemon for even more delightful flavor)
- Ginger root
- salt and black pepper
Simply peel and shred the beets and carrots into a bowl (if you have a food processor this is made much quicker and cleaner). Zest and juice the lemon (get some of the pulp too if you can), grate the ginger (not too much. Note: ginger is easier to grate if you freeze the root). Add a dash of salt and some black pepper. Stir together. And serve. There you go! The citrus and ginger pair amazingly well with the earthy and sweet beet flavor. If you wanted you could add a handful or two of raisins to the mix. Also, if you want to minimize the oxalic burn, you can quickly blanch the beets before shredding (don’t cool long though, because part of the enjoyment of this salad is its crispness). The whole process of making this salad really only takes about 15 minutes (I know because I made it yesterday morning).
So there you go, another root vegetable to look into. This is definitely the time of year. I’m particularly excited because we have beets (and parsnips) growing in our winter garden right now, which means in a few more weeks, we’ll have our own fresh ones to use. So good!
Happy Monday folks, hope everybody has a nice week.