This is one of the hubby’s favorite side dishes. Whenever beets appear on the menu, odds are he’ll order them and who can blame him? Sweet yet earthy but not in an I’m-eating-fuchsia-topsoil kinda way with a firmer crunch than a carrot that lends itself well to savory and sweetly savory preparations. A few years ago, beets were the pork belly of the PDX restaurant scene which would garner few complaints from me except for the beet margarita with smoked salt that did in fact taste like puréed dirt, wait, smoky salty dirt. Oh, and the chocolate beet
compost cake I once had at another new-American-cuisine-farm-to-table eatery that actually disapproved a commonly held theory that chocolate makes everything taste better. I’m all for innovation and pushing the envelope but it has to taste at least as good as the tried and true faves, no?
My favorite way to eat beets is roasted cuz it really brings out all the best aspects of this titian root veggie: sweet, firm toothy texture, with a hint of earthiness. I find that the addition of tangy sweet balsamic vinegar really enhances the natural sweetness of the beets and creamy, salty blue cheese really rounds out any sharpness and compliments the earthy undertones. And just in case you think they’re just a rougey vehicle for carbs, 1 cup of beets contains 37% of the RDA for folate, 22% of manganese, 6% of iron, 3.8 g of fiber, 2.2 g of protein and a measly 58.5 calories. The major downside of this delectable treat is that it can take a long time to cook (they’re really dense [smirk]) as well as the fact that your hands and cutting board may take on a pinkish hue but not to worry, there’s ways around that and the payoff is worth it.
1) How do I cook beets, not wear them? Truthfully, besides wearing rubber gloves while handling them, you’re going to get a bit of pink on your hands. I find that as long as I wash my hands after I’m done handling them that they look slightly pinkish, like my hands are really warm. Some people like to boil them first and then slide the skin off but in my experience, my hands get even redder with that method and it takes longer since you have to boil and then cool them enough to handle. I just peel them raw with my peeler (I have a nice sharp ceramic one that’s easily worth the $10), fast and painless. Usually by the end of cooking the meal (cuz I’m constantly washing my hands between steps, contamination ya know!) my hands are pretty close to normal looking. I’ve also read that you can remove stains by running your hands under cold water and then rubbing salt over the stains–the salt exfoliates your skin and removes the stains along with it, and someone else mentioned that a quick soak in Polident (denture stain remover) works wonders both of which I haven’t tried. I find that if my cutting board is well oiled I have no problems with any crime scene reenactments 😉
2) And the fastest way to cook beets is…? A quick sojourn in the microwave works for most root veggies like sweet potatoes, potatoes, and beets. I am lucky enough to have a “potato” setting on my microwave but if you don’t, just microwave at 2/3-3/4 power for 3-4 minutes and that will par-cook them enough to drop your roasting time by about 30-40%.
3) Do I really need fig-flavored balsamic vinegar? No, but it does taste good. You can either use straight balsamic vinegar or mince a dried fig and mix it in with the beets.
3 large beets (~3 c), peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 tbsp fig balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp crumbled blue cheese
Freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 450F.
Microwave beets on 3/4 power for 3 minutes (since they’re cut into pieces you don’t need to pierce them first). Pour out any accumulated liquid.
Place beets in an oven-safe dish and pour olive oil and balsamic vinegar over them. Cover with foil and roast in oven for 20 minutes. Decrease temperature to 400F, remove foil, and roast till the beets are easily pierced with a fork ~10-5 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with blue cheese and season to taste with freshly ground pepper. Makes 4 servings.