I really used to hate beets.
Well, okay, that isn’t true. I loved beets, so long as I never had to eat them.
I loved the color of them–the intoxicating magenta, crimson and garnet shades arranged in concentric rings were fascinating to me as a kid. The colors of beets drew me to them like a moth to a candle flame, but their flavor repelled me just as strongly. They tasted like dirt to me, and their rich, velvety texture and lovely hues could never override that big negative in my mind or on my tongue.
But, when I was a kid, I loved helping Grandma can them. I got to play with them–packing their slippery slices, dripping with roseate juices that stained my fingertips Aurora-pink. (I was -way- into Greek and Roman mythology as a kid, and like to think of myself as “rosy-fingered dawn.” Yeah, I read Homer as a small kid. Once a geek, always a geek…)
So you get the picture–I loved the color of beets, but not so much their flavor–when I was a kid, they tasted like dirt, in a bad way.
Now that I am adult, I think they taste earthy in a good way. As I write these sentences, I am struck by the fact that the word “earthy” in this context is a nice, more palatable sounding way to say that beets taste like dirt. So, the fact is, beets still taste like dirt, but now I like that taste.
I am not sure what that says about me, but I do find it amusing.
I still like the way beets look–their color–which is the same exact shade as the “Mulberry” Crayola crayons back in the day and was my favorite color as a kid, by the way–so much so that I own clothing that shade. And as you can see in the photograph above, I own a bracelet in that color.
A bracelet that is made of, guess what? Beets!
Beets turned into parchment and layered over copper, then finished with what appears to be lacquer.
This bracelet is the work of artist Margaret Dorffman, who makes neat stuff out of vegetables and fruits. The bowls she makes are really cool, but I like the beet bracelet the best, and everyone knows it because I have worn the thing nearly every day since I got it for Mother’s Day.
And every time I look at it I smile, and remember those long afternoons I spent with my Grandma, “putting up” beets as pickles or just plain, in jars that shimmered like garnets after we were done.
My other favorite thing to do with beets besides wear them is to eat them in salads. Long time readers know this because I have shared salad recipes that include roasted beets a couple of times over the years. For an early summer salad, there is Roasted Beet Salad with Chevre and Blueberry Vinaigrette. And for the autumn beet harvest, there is October Beet Salad with Mizuna and Pears.
Well, now, here is another beet salad, this one for late spring–it includes red-speckled fresh spring lettuces, and Bordeaux Spinach–a gorgeous and delicious variety with brilliant beet-red veins and stems.. There are also toasted black walnut bits and Gorgonzola cheese, though truly any blue-veined cheese would do. I found that the strong earthy–there goes that word again–flavor of the cheese married well with the sweetness of the beets and the light astringent quality of the beets and walnuts.
Of course if black walnuts are not available to you–they are native to Appalachia, and we have a tree in our yard–you can use good old English walnuts. Just be sure to toast them over medium heat in a cast iron skillet before you use them. It makes them oh so tastier if you do that. And it is simple–just heat your cast iron pan over the stove until it is nice and hot, then put in your walnut pieces and shake them in the pan for about four minutes, or until you can smell their lovely browned aroma wafting up and tickling your nose. Then dump them out on a plate to cool, and when they are at room temperature again, sprinkle them over your salad.
Now it is your turn–I urge everyone to let the beet go on–on your wrist or on your plate, it doesn’t matter to me. I just think it is a vegetable that is suffering from underappreciation, and that is sad to me. Maybe I am just feeling sad for all those years I missed out on eating beets, and I am trying to make up for it by evangelizing on their behalf–but it doesn’t matter. Beets are wonderful, they are beautiful and they deserve to be eaten and loved by, if not everyone, by as many people as I can convince need to try them.
Roasted Beet Salad With Bordeaux Spinach., Walnuts and Gorgonzola
2 medium sized beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups young leaves of Bordeaux spinach, torn into bite-sized pieces if necessary
3 cups young lettuce leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup black or English walnut pieces, toasted as directed above and cooled
1/4 cup (or more if you really like cheese) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 tablespoon Dijon-type mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 to 1/2 cup excellent olive oil, or other fine, fresh oil
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking pan with foil, and rub with a little of the olive oil.
Trim greens and large roots from beets, scrub skin thoroughly. If you are worried about juice staining your hands, wear latex gloves while handling beets. (Golden beets stain less.) Dry beets and put into baking pan, then drizzle with olive oil.
Put pan into oven and roast, uncovered, until beets have wrinkled, somewhat dried out looking skins and have shrunken a bit and are easily pierced with a fork. (Depending on the size of your beets, this can take from forty-five minutes to an hour.)
Remove from oven, allow to cool enough to handle. Using a paring knife and your fingers, peel off skin–it should be quite easy to remove. Allow beets to cool completely once they are skinned.
Cut beets into 1/2″ dice.
Arrange salad leaves in a bowl, then sprinkle with diced beets, walnuts and Gorgonzola.
Put remaining ingredients into a small jar and shake well to combine. Pour over salad and toss well to combine, then serve immediately.
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