Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Roasted Beet Salad

Farm fresh beets "The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious[...]. The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer[...]. The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot." - Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
Market day at the Botanical Garden. I walk over every Wednesday during my lunch hour, camera and canvas tote in hand. The experience is an ephemeral connection to the seasons and the natural progression of our farmed foods. Spears of asparagus for about three seconds in spring; leafy greens and berry fruit through early and mid-summer; legumes, tomatoes and corn just in time for the dog days of summer and all that outdoor cooking; finally, root crops, hard-shelled fruits and squash through the autumn. My diet has been varied, changing, and oh so delicious through these months. And for dinner after my latest foray to the Garden? Roasted Beet Salad. Free radicals were at DEFCON 1 as the antioxidants in my beets threw down the nutritional gauntlet. The poor buggers never stood chance.
Fresh beets, onions, heirloom tomatoes and chilies
So many people detest the beet. I think it's because their only exposure has been to that bruised mushy thing which comes from a can that's been sitting in a warehouse or on a market shelf since the Eisenhower administration. It's sort of a Cold War hold over. No wonder kids can't stand them. But a roasted fresh beet has to be the tastiest way of getting this amazing vegetable into your diet. And if you can turn on an oven and use a paring knife without injuring yourself, there is almost no work involved in preparing them.
Pre-heat said oven to 400º while prepping your beets. Lob off the leafy stems just about the root part of the beet. You don't have to trim the tapered end, but I like everything neat! Rinse the beets in cold water, brushing off any loose dirt, then let drain for a few minutes.
Washed beetsBeets & garlic with olive oil, salt and pepperBeets in a foil pocket
Next, place the beets on a sheet of aluminum foil, drizzle with some olive oil, and add a pinch of salt and pepper. It's Garlic Month at "You Gonna Finish That?", so for argument's sake, toss in a few peeled garlic cloves. Fold the ends of the foil over to form a sealed beet pouch and place on a baking sheet and slide onto the middle rack of the oven. Set a timer for 40 minutes (10 minutes longer if you have large beets), and go watch some TV, or sort that mountain of laundry.
Roasted beets right out of the ovenAfter forty minutes the beets will be soft - easily penetrable with a fork - and HOT! Allow to cool for a few minutes before attempting to peel the skins from them. While they're cooling, prep the rest of your salad items. Conventional wisdom pairs beets with walnuts, goat cheese, and spinach or arugula. Well, I had almonds, no cheese and mesclun in the pantry, and was happy to make due. Not satisfied there, I sliced some chilies and a yellow onion to add as well. This was gonna be a white man's salad, or in other words, a big ol' mess.
In a medium-sized bowl, I coated my greens with a simple dressing that I made during commercial breaks while the beets were roasting: 3 parts olive oil, 1 part balsamic vinegar, 1 part Dijon mustard, chopped garlic, salt & pepper. Then I tossed in sliced tomatoes, onion, chilies and beets; topped with toasted almonds, and one more hit of the vinaigrette. I pressed "mute" on the television, dimmed the lights a little, poured out a young Zin from the California central coast and tucked in.
Beet salad ingredientsSalad prep handy workRoasted beet salad
Roasted beets have an earthy, subtly sweet flavor about them. They love acidity like that in vinegar and when you combine them with nuts, you'll think you've mastered the art of living. Beets are the nutritional Irish Sweepstakes, loaded with potassium, vitamins A and C, magnesium, riboflavin, iron, copper, calcium and zinc. Their color comes from a family of pigments called betalains, a source of powerful antioxidants believed to lower the risk of heart disease and protect against a number of cancers. Your mom knew what she was talking about when she instructed you to finish your beets.
I probably spent about four dollars on the whole meal, including two glasses of wine. I compared that to what the US Senate gave away in pork in the Wall Street Bailout Plan (let's call it exactly what it is here, folks), and just shook my head. But not in a dissatisfied sort of way. I don't know what I'll do when the pickings grow slim at the market stalls, but that's still weeks away. Until then, you'll know where to find me every Wednesday around noon.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food


Megan said...

what drew me to this post was not my love of beets but the fact that i knew the opening quote and was so happy that someone else did too!!!!!!! i knew it immediately!!!!!! so fun.

but i'm scared of beets....aren't they hard to work with? wash/clean etc?

Blog O. Food said...

Beets do take a tiny bit more care. Don't trim the stem too close to the beet, and don't trim the root end at all until finished roasting or braising. Otherwise, they're simple to clean with a gentle vegetable brush. Beets are just too damned beneficial to be scared off by. Strap on an apron, where gloves if you don't feel like doing Lady Macbeth impersonations, and have at it!

Matty O' Food said...

Ah sweet beets... how I love you. Dark Red, Variegated, Yellow, Pickled. I even like the julienned disasters that sit sadly as a salad bar offering. Fear not my forsaken ones, I still love you. I cringe when people mention you in the same breath as a Turnip. While turnips do have their place (thickening soups.. or a slowly rotting paperweight) they simply can't hold a candle to your sweet, earthy goodness.

Nicole aka beet girl said...

I like beets too!