Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Mom, Does 'Earthy' Mean it Tastes Like Dirt?"


I tell ya', love or hate 'em.

At least that's what I thought 'till I gave them another try.  Because I had nothing to say to a beet except, "no thank you."  But they started showing up in my CSA box.  And they last forever.  I mean I can ignore arugula for 2 weeks, and then can throw it away without guilt - because it has gone bad.  But those beets, they were still beets a month later.  So not to be daunted, I tried fixing them in some desperate new ways.  And found some things that made me say, "huh?  These actually have potential."  And through sheer force of personality - or force of something, I got my husband to try them (again) too.

Here's the thing.  Except for the adorable, non-threatening early baby beets that are the size of walnuts:

most beets come across like this:

Definitely associated with dirt, and - in this case actually - bigger than your head.  Just not appealing.

And then beet lovers insist on serving them like THIS:
Look at their stripy-ness!
 or this
borscht - you have to try it!  See it has sour cream, it's great!
(apologies to Simply Recipes -
it actually looks like a very good borscht recipe)
 or this
beet salad - where you can really taste the beet-i-ness

But for the rest of us - well, beets do taste a bit, err, ummm earthy.  ("Say it mom, they taste like dirt!")
OK, no ducking out of it, there is definitely the taste of the soil about them.  Or well, really - they are awfully sweet for a vegetable (high sugar content), and they are very low in sodium (taste very bland to our sodium desiring palates), and have a pretty neutral pH (are neither sour - acid, nor bitter - basic).  So  for most of us, they are in dire need of adjustment.

And as the boy genius in my life pointed out, if they were just cut up smaller, they could actually be good.

After all - who goes around chomping up huge plain mouthfuls of arugula, watercress, kale, broccoli or even spinach?  All of these veg need help, and do best when given the appropriate companions.

So how to adjust your beets so they are fit to go out in public - and get consumed:

Step 1:  Make them smaller.  Even the baby beets, when I first tried them raw, were "wafer-thin" to quote a little Monty Python.

BAD:  bigger than a fork

GOOD: very-thin or small beety-bits suitable for matching with other produce.

Step 2: Find good flavor contrasts.  Sharp, Sour, and Crunchy all compliment and elevate the beet.  It after all is soft, sweet and somehow bland.  And, yes, earthy.
But the beet also has a complex set of flavors, that when uncovered, are actually good - no, great!
So do not serve them alone to novices.
Match them with the right partners.

Sharp (or pungent) flavors include  - onions, bitter greens, or strong cheeses.  And radishes - also sliced thin.

Sour - vinegar or citrus.  Use sour-er vingars like cider and rice rather than sweeter ones (like balsamic). Lemon and lime juice or grapefruit segments.

Crunchy - Nuts! Toast!  Beets when properly cooked do have a "cooked carrot" texture about them that can be off putting to those that have bad childhood vegetable memories (I see the raised hands) or continue to have issues with certain textures (and the other hands).  But throwing a handful of roasted pistachios, hazelnuts or almonds can do wonderful things.
And eaten with a crispy piece of toast (with garlic butter?), or a crispy salty cracker - well, now we're talkin'.

All of these tamp down the bad and pop the good to the top.

Step 3: Dressing!  They are a vegetable, and they don't have (much) sodium.  And the sweet benefits from a little pungent heat (mustard and garlic).

So get out a small tupperware with a water-tight lid.  Use it to shake up your tasty vinaigrette dressing.

Basic Vinaigrette - in the small tupperware
a) pinch of salt, pinch of pepper
b) 1 crushed/chopped garlic clove (or 1tsp minced garlic)
c) 2 Tbs acid (vinegar or citrus juice)
d) 1tsp mustard (any kind)
e) 4 Tbs oil - (something tasty if you have it)

pop on the lid - shake it 'til it's cloudy and combined

Note: taste and add salt and pepper and vinegar as needed.  You can whisk this all together in a small bowl with a whisk or a fork too.

Now, make a salad.

BOWL - choose one big enough to toss things around
BIG SPOONS - for tossing your salad - OK any salad servers will work
In the bottom - beet bits (cubes), chopped onions
pour in plenty of dressing to coat (you only made a little dressing - you'll be OK) and toss the onions and beets.

Wash your greens.
Find that handful of nuts.
Cheese - break up the blue cheese or goat cheese into small chunks.

Toss everything together.
Toast the bread - or find the crackers.

And then make it look something like this.
Yup - I had GOLDEN beets for this.  

P.S. For whatever reason - beets pair better with gin, vodka (The Russians!) and bitter beer than they do with wine.  But if you MUST have wine, dry white.

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