Monday, June 25, 2007

The Unlikeliest of Vegetables

You might think a vegetarian would know everything there is to know about vegetables, but you would be wrong. For the past three years, I’ve been fairly fascinated by cooking. I’ve learned all sorts of cooking skills, read countless foodie books, and tried numerous new recipes. But I’d never played with a fresh beet until a couple of weeks ago. I’m not even sure I’ve ever noticed a fresh beet in the grocery store.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against beets. They’ve just not been registering too high on my radar. I remember my grandmother growing and pickling them when I was a kid, and I was a fan of the sweet and slightly tart, chilled pickled beet slices when she would serve them alongside a light summer dinner, but then I’d forget all about them. They just weren’t the kind of thing I went around with a craving for.
Until now, that is.
Three weeks ago, when I happily unloaded my bag of vegetables from the farm, I was completely stumped when I pulled out a small handful of beets with the greens attached. I didn’t have a clue what to do with them. Beets recipes don’t show up that commonly in the magazines I read regularly, and I couldn’t find anything appetizing (if I found anything at all) in the cookbooks that I pull down from the shelf most often.
So I did what any self-respecting independent woman of the new millennium would do. I called my mom. “Boil them,” she said. “Humph,” I replied. Because truly, what kind of culinary challenge comes from boiling a vegetable? The only thing that gets boiled in my house is pasta. Big Mama got a little defensive. “I like my vegetables to be cooked simply,” she sniffed.
After a little Googling, I came upon a recipe for pickled beets that sounded easy enough, and appeared much less sweet than the other recipes I’d stumbled upon so far in my search. It was more of a sliced-beets-in-vinaigrette kind of thing, really, but I thought I would give it a shot. After all, I had zero other options so far.
First step was to boil the beets (maybe Big Mama was onto something here). Then you peel them, slice them, dunk them in the “pickling” juice, and refrigerate them for at least a few hours. I got all stressed out about the boiling part – I always have this big fear that all the nutrients and flavor will go down the drain with the discarded water at the end, but I gave it my best shot. After fighting with the peeling, which didn’t “slip right off” like the recipe claimed it would, I got busy slicing. I managed to slice maybe two beets before my curiosity got the better of me. I mean, what kind of a person would pickle a vegetable without first tasting it plain to see what the blank canvas offered by itself?
It was an epiphany. Plain boiled beets are absolutely delicious. So delicious, in fact, that I was sorely disappointed with the pickled beets when they were ready. I repeated the whole procedure again with my next batch of beets from the farm, and got the same results. Pickled beets just aren’t as good as plain old beets.
So yeah, I should have listened to my mother to begin with. But don’t tell her I said that.
THE PROPER WAY TO TREAT ONE POUND OF BEETS (makes a great lunch for one pregnant vegetarian)
  • One pound of beets, greens still attached
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • Pinch kosher salt or sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Balsamic vinegar or hot sauce, to taste
  1. Cut the greens off of the beets and reserve (you'll need them in step 4).
  2. If all beets aren't the same size, cut the larger ones into chunks roughly the same size of the smallest ones.
  3. Put beets in pan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Continue boiling for 20-30 minutes, until beets are easily pierced with a fork. Drain. Quickly peel beets under cold running water and discard the peeling.
  4. While the beets are boiling, cook the greens: roughly chop the greens; finely chop the stems.
  5. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.
  6. Add greens and toss with the oil until the greens have begun to wilt.
  7. Add garlic, salt and pepper on top of the greens; cook until the greens are wilted and shiny.
  8. Toss with either balsamic vinegar (if you're partial to sweet/tart flavors) or the hot sauce (if you're the spicy type).
  9. Serve greens alongside the beets for a seriously yummy and light summer lunch.

It should be noted that both The Carnivore and Odd Toddler have decided to eschew beets season entirely. I'm the only one in the house who enjoys them at all, but the pleasure I'm getting from them is more than enough to make up for the reluctance of the rest of my family.


Anonymous said...

I loved the beets too. I boiled them, slipped the skins off, and stood right by the stove and ate every last one of them from the end of my knife.

Emily C

Fellow Beet Lover said...

I could have written this story! I too love veggies and consider myself adventurous and knowledgable in the food realm, but had not eaten beets outside my early childhood. Two weeks ago, beets showed up in my CSA box. I boiled them. Cut them up, prepping to make a salad, and ended up eating a good portion of them on the spot. I couldn't help myself!

Becky said...

My Russian roommate made a salad with beets, potatoes, carrots and peas. He boiled the beets, carrots and potatoes - separately - then diced them to half inch. He mixed with the peas - and here's where I get fuzzy on the recipe - and I think added vinegar, oil and salt. It is quite (shockingly) colorful and may entice your toddler to try it. It was very tasty!

Anonymous said...

My friend was advised to eat beets when she was pregnant by her health care professional. It is supposed to be real healthy for you and baby.

Linda up north said...

I, too, LOVE beets. When I am canning beets, I eat tons of them like apples right after I slip the skins off... no salt or anything, they are the best! Maybe you did not boil them quite long enough? The skins should slip off fairly easily.
Linda Up North

Dollymama said...

If you ever do any juicing, use beets! I love to make fresh juice from carrots, celery, zucchini, and beets. And an apple. Yummy!