Every January, fresh vegetables finally get the attention they deserve. My beet buddies, whether they have billowing green leaves, long tapered roots or roly-poly bodies, are finally back in vogue! All it took was the excess of the holidays to help nudge all those colours and shapes back into the healthy eating spotlight.While I don’t like to play favourites, beets make me particularly happy, appealing not just to my palate, but my parsimonious nature. Where else do you get two vegetables for the price of one?
But the redness factor in beets – both in the roots and the greens – can distract. Not everyone can abide by the faint red juice that accompanies a sauté of beet greens and garlic. And even I, vegetable lover that I am, almost fainted when presented with a crimson bowl of borscht at the age of 13 while visiting the home of a classmate. Barely over the shock of my girlfriend’s father wearing an apron and cooking the soup from scratch, I followed her serving suggestion and placed a dollop of sour cream in the middle of what looked like a pool of blood. When I swirled the two together, I had visions of Pepto-Bismol and wondered if anyone would notice if my soup went stealthfully, spoon by spoon, into the African violet on the ledge behind me?
My children, now in their 20s, still won’t go near a beet. Who cares?! I’m tickled to reap more of my share of beet rewards. Besides, these babies take time. To roast, simply wrap unpeeled, individual beets in foil and bake at 350 F for an hour or until tender. Or boil unpeeled roots in salted water for 45 min (or until a knife slips through the flesh with no resistance). Once cooled in an ice-bath, a beet’s skin slips off effortlessly.
There’s a reason you’ll find vacuum-packed, cooked beets sold in most European markets and in some upscale Toronto ones, too. Once cooked, you can slice them into a zillion different salad combinations.
But if time is of the essence, peel a raw beet and pull out the box-grater. Shredded (or even spiralized) raw beets are a delicious addition to salads or can be sautéed in olive oil with seasonings such as ginger, shallots, garlic or lemon zest.
Citrus is a fine companion for beets both visually and texturally. Think finely sliced grapefruit rounds stacked with cooked, sliced beets bathed in a piquant dressing with chives.
Another winner is goat cheese. Try roasting peeled beet wedges, cippolline onions and whole garlic cloves in olive oil and salt at 400 F for 45 min. Toss warm with goat cheese, arugula and torn basil, dress with olive oil and a small splash of sherry vinegar and serve to your best, beet-loving friends – year round.
© 2016 Madeleine Greey
Beet and Cabbage Borscht
This soup feeds an army. I like to serve it fresh (ideally the day after, since the flavours intensify) and freeze the rest. A dollop of dairy such as sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, sprinkled with chives or chopped green onions and chili flakes is an irresistible garnish.
- 2- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 leeks
- 1 onion
- 3 stalks celery
- 6 red beets, peeled and diced into ½ inch cube
- ½ small green cabbage, sliced
- ½ small red cabbage, sliced
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 8 cups vegetable stock
- 8 -10 leaves Tuscan kale, stem removed and thinly sliced
- 1 small can (400 ml/17 oz) of cherry tomatoes and juice
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed or finely grated with a rasp
- 1 tsp smoked hot paprika
- Salt (1-2 tsp)
- ¼ cup red vinegar
Heat oil in a large soup pot and sauté leeks, onion and celery with a sprinkling of salt until soft and fragrant. Add diced beets, sliced cabbage, bay leaves, stock, cherry tomatoes and Tuscan kale. Bring to a gentle simmer and season with finely grated garlic, paprika, salt and pepper. Simmer gently for 45 min to 1 hr. Finish with vinegar. © 2016 Madeleine Greey