Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Amazing Beet

I know what you are going to say.....Beets! Yuck! Blech! Who would eat something like that? It tastes like dirt! Never! I felt the same way until a couple of years ago. I had rudely relegated these ruby colored tubers to the Borscht of my childhood and the pickled orbs floating like monstrous globs in glass on the shelves of the local Jewish deli. Ick. epiphany! While enjoying a fancy dinner out in Boston (with the man who would eventually become my Dear Husband), we were given a stereotypical dish of beets, goat cheese, and candied pecans as a salad course. Once the dish was set before me, I had to admit, it was pretty darn attractive. The bright crimson playing with the pale cheese and shiny pecans... Hmmm. I guess I can grin and bear it. I would suffer through and look forward to the next course. But then - one bite and I was in love with beets!

Beets have a beautiful earthy taste, and when roasted, an amazing sweetness comes shining through. Their texture is soft, but not mushy, and provides a lovely counterpoint to cheeses, salad greens, roasted vegetables, and especially nuts. Beets have a way of being both savory and sweet; light, but also substantive due to their distinct flavor.

One of my favorite recipes using beets is in a salad with pistachios, orange, and fresh herbs. I will often serve this as part of a brunch or a multi- course dinner. The colors are beautiful, and the zesty orange flavors mesh really well with the lower key notes of the beets. The dressing is akin to a gremolata sauce, with lots of chives, tarragon, and parsley. The whole combination of flavors is very bright and perks up meals that are otherwise very protein-laden.

Be aware: beets are also used for cloth dye because of their radiant wine color, so if you are somewhat accident prone like me, don't wear your Sunday best when cooking this dish! The roasting process is very simple - toss the beets into an oven safe casserole dish with a little water & spices and let the heat do it's magic. Once cooled, the skins should rub off very easily with an old dish towel or with paper towels. I wear rubber gloves for this part, although beet colored fingertips can be attractive in some cultures!

Sliced thinly, arranged artfully on a platter, and lightly dressed, this dish is a stunner! Trust me, once you've tasted beets for real, you'll be singing their praises too! All we are saying / is give beets a chance.

Roasted Beets with Pistachios, Herbs, and Orange

Recipe originally from

3 pounds of beets, preferably a mix of colors
one 3-inch cinnamon, stick broken into 3 pieces
2 bay leaves
1 cup of water
1 large shallot, minced
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/4 cup chopped tarragon
1/4 cup of chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup unsalted roasted pistachios, chopped
1/4 cup celery leaves for garnish (I generally leave these out due to an allergy)

Preheat your oven to 375F. Arrange the beets in a roasting pan and add the cinnamon pieces, bay leaves, and water. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour or until the beets are tender (test by inserting a butter knife into the center). Once done, transfer the beets to a large baking sheet and let cool. Discard the cooking liquid and spices.

In a small bowl, mix the shallot, vinegar, and a large pinch of salt. Let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in the orange zest, tarragon, chives, parsley, and olive oil. Season with salt to taste.

Peel the beets (I rub the skins off with an old clean dish towel that I don't mind staining) and cut the beets into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange the beets on a platter in overlapping rows. Stir the herb dressing and spoon over the beets. Sprinkle the pistachios and celery leaves (if using) on top and serve at room temperature.

Note: The beets and dressing can be made ahead of time and refrigerated separately overnight. Return to room temperature before finishing and serving. 

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