A Good Beet

I love garden beets. I’ve been eating beets since I was little kid and loved canned shoestring beets swimming in Regina Red Wine Vinegar. After school, I was happily satiated with my beets, a side of kipper snacks and a cream soda and I was on fire. Strangely, it wasn’t until I was well into my twenties that I learned that you could buy beets fresh, roast them in the oven and they we’re absolutely delicious.They were tender, sweet and flavorful. I have to give all the credit to the woman responsible for the renaissance of homemaking, Martha Stewart. Say what you want about The Martha, but she made housekeeping a respectable occupation again and made it so much more interesting and thanks to Martha, I’ve never opened a can of beets again. http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/roasted-beets)

When I asked our friend Chef Linda Steidel what she thought of these red, root gems, she said, “I love beets. The only ones that I had ever had was the shoestring ones from a can. Not bad, but not even close the wonderful sweet roasted flavor of a fresh beet. In France we could buy vacuum packed beets that were already roasted and peeled. How clever of them. I am happy to say that the ready-to-eat, vacuum-packed beets are now available at Trader Joes and are delicious. The roasting time is usually an hour and then there is the issue of peeling them. They definitely stain your hands. This is cheating a little bit, but I must say I find that I eat them more often. They are delicious.” (lindasteidel.com) After that response from a master like Linda, I didn’t feel so bad about not discovering them until later in life.

The beet has many relatives such as chard and the spinach beet. The sugar beet is the root vegetable that is responsible for producing table sugar. It is believed that the beet’s cultivation goes back to the second millennium BC somewhere along the Mediterranean. By the 8th century BC, the beet was found in Babylonia. By 850 AD, the beet had spread to China. By the 19th century, the Germans perfected the sugar beet and developed a method to extract sucrose which was much cheaper and easier to come by than tropical sugar cane. The inspiration to quickly develop this process was also due to the Napoleonic Wars, when Europe was unable to obtain Caribbean cane sugar. To this day, 30% of the world’s sugar is produced from sugar beets. Beets are also colorful and used to produce Betanin, a natural food colorant which is used to color cereals, ice creams, preserves, tomato products, just to mention a few. Beets are full of valuable energy and beet pulp is also fed to horses that require higher calories or have allergies to hay dust. Beets are also significant and are eaten on Rosh Hashana because it’s Aramaic name “silka” phonetically sounds like the Aramaic word “siluk” meaning “removal,” which coincides with the verse from the Yehi Ratzon that reads “may our adversaries be removed.” Food is all the more interesting when we discover how cultures develop their rituals, feasts and ceremonies; when we learn these things, our enjoyment of food takes on many different dimensions.

Today at our Farmer’s Markets, there are many different and beautiful varieties of beets that range in color from golden yellow to deep purple. The greens are delicious when sauteed with olive oil and garlic or eaten raw with a vinaigrette. Roasting beets is easy and quick and is the best method to retain texture and flavor. I like to wash my beets, remove the greens for salad or a saute and remove the root tail. I begin by heating my oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. I then, lay out an appropriate amount of foil for the amount of beets I want to roast, lined with parchment paper to prevent the beets from coming into contact with the aluminum foil. I place the whole beets in a line on the parchment, drizzle with olive oil and kosher salt. I wrap the beets up tootsie-roll style in the parchment paper. I then wrap the parchment-clad beets with the foil in the same fashion twisting the ends to retain moisture during the roasting process. Roast large beets about 60 minutes, medium beets about 40 minutes and baby beets about 20 minutes. Beets are cooked when they can be penetrated by a knife without resistance. Leave the beets in their package to cool and then, use a paper towel to slip off the outer skins — it will come off like a little jacket.

Your freshly roasted beets can be enjoyed alone, in a salad, or however you want to serve them. A very simple and healthy way to serve your roasted beets is with sliced mango or mandarin oranges, thinly sliced red onion, the zest of one orange, apple cider vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, goat cheese, and pecans. Below I have attached the link and also copied an amazing dressing recipe for roasted beets from Chef Brendan Collins of Waterloo & City that was posted on one of my favorite food shows, Evan Kleinman’s Good Food: (http://blogs.kcrw.com/goodfood/2011/02/brendan-collins-blackberry-vinaigrette/)

Brendan Collins of Waterloo & City was at the Santa Monica Farmers Market this week where he talked to Laura Avery on the Market Report. Brendan is making a beet salad with goat cheese and a blackberry vinaigrette. A recipe for the dressing follows:

Blackberry Vinegar
1 qt balsamic vinegar
1 qt cider vinegar
1 qt over ripe blackberries

Mix all the ingredients and marinate in the fridge for a minimum of 2 weeks

Blackberry Vinaigrette
2 pts blackberry vinegar
4 pt blackberries
1 qt olive oil
1 qt grape seed oil
4 clove garlic very finely chopped
4 shallots fine chopped
1 oz lemon juice
3 tsps Dijon
5 tsps seat salt
20 turns of a pepper mill that has black pepper corns in it

Warm the vinegar up with blackberries blend and pass through a sieve.

Add salt pepper shallots, garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt and lemon juice and shake in a container large enough to hold all ingredients add oil in small batches shake well and adjust seasoning to you taste