Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Baby Got Beets!

Winter vegetables can be really dismal. If there was ever something to convince me to chuck all my nutrition sense out the window, it would have to be the availability of vegetables in winter. Now, when you live in sunny California you don’t have this problem. But here in Maine, we do. 

Don’t get me wrong, when the first winter squashes hit the market I go a little nuts, roasting, pureeing and baking. But now the prospect of yet another night of hard squash, or icky grocery store produce makes me want to head for the nearest burger joint. I mean sweet potato fries totally count as a vegetable don’t they?
It’s no wonder people grow up hating brussel sprouts and broccoli. They are at their peak icky-ness currently in the grocery store. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself. Those brussel sprouts have probably been sitting there since Thanksgiving. And the broccoli has faded yellow spots or little black spots on the hidden stems. It’s almost impossible to make something like that taste good. You can always fall back on frozen vegetables, but again, I can only serve Joe so many frozen pea concoctions before he goes on strike. Sometimes you just need something vibrant, healthy and tasty. And this, my friends, is where beets come in.
Many local farmers’ markets (if you are lucky enough to have operational winter markets) will have some of their storage beets for sale. And beets get sweeter with age. That’s right, sweeter! Now before you click away from this post thinking that I have gone a little stir crazy being buried under mounds of snow up here in Maine, hear me out.

The beets I’m talking about don’t come in a can, aren’t on some gross Ruby Tuesday’s Salad bar, and are not pickled (although I hear pickled beets can be quite tasty). No these, are subtle, sweet and a bit earthy. They won’t be a soggy, falling apart, shirt-staining mess. They will be a relief to your winter vegetable rotation.
Roasting beets is easy, it takes a little while, but there is nothing more you have to do than turn on the oven, coat a baking sheet with a little oil, wash some beets, prick them with a fork, toss them on the tray and bake. That’s it! Once they are tender, peel them and slice them. This saves all their subtle flavors and enhances the natural sugars in beets, while maintaining their structure. Beets are very satisfying. Yes, it can be a bit messy, but I find that as long as you don’t let beet juice sit, it washes off fairly easily. Or you can hold the beet with a form while you peel them, and avoid touching them hardly at all.

Roasted Beet Salad
If you are fortunate to find different types of beets, I recommend trying them. Golden beets are sweeter and more tender (i.e. less scary) then your typical red beet, and the Chioggia beets are just cool when you cut into them (Candy-cane stripped).

4-5 medium sized beets, assorted types
1 tsp. vegetable oil
2 cups loosely packed arugula (optional)
1 Tb. Olive oil
Juice of ½ a lemon
3 Tb. Chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
Crumbled feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°. Coat a baking sheet with the 1 tsp. of vegetable oil. Wash the beets well and snap off any long roots. Prick the beets all over with a fork, and place on baking sheet. Roast the beets until tender – test by inserting a fork into the beet. If it goes in smoothly and easily, the beet is done. For beets the size of golf balls – 30 minutes, for beets closer to the size of baseballs an hour and so on. Let the beets cool enough to handle then slice off both ends and peel. Slice beets into manageable pieces and place in bowl.

If you are using red beets and another kind, keep the beets separate until ready to serve, or the red beets will make everything pink. Toss the beets with olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper. Serve over arugula and sprinkle with crumbled feta. Spoon any reserved dressing from the beets over the whole mixture. Or just toss beets with feta and dressing and serve.

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