Recipe: B is for Beet

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beets and pomegranate molasses

So, the Obamas are planting that organic edible garden on the grounds of the White House after all. It looks like a lovely melting-pot of flavors and cultures, too, with tomatillos and Thai basil, chiles and cilantro, chard and arugula.

But where’s the beet? First George Bush dissed broccoli; now Barack has put the kibosh on beets. Frankly, beets don’t need any help in that direction. Many otherwise rational, veg-loving folks still recoil from these little magenta orbs as if from a snake, San Francisco’s endless parade of beet-and-goat-cheese salads notwithstanding.

Now, I used to be that way, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with my fellow beet-haters. But I had good reason.

My mother, to her credit, never tortured us with canned beets. We went to a local New Jersey farmstand and brought home perfectly nice fresh beets, but they only ever got cooked one way: boiled, then covered in a slippery, cornstarch-thickened sweet-and-sour glop of vinegar, sugar, and cloves. These she called Harvard beets. They must have been something her own mother had cooked for her, 1950s home food for a 1970s woman who otherwise made stir-fries and homemade granola. And I loathed them, and blamed the beets.

Well, moving to San Francisco revealed that an Ivy League pedigree wasn’t the only way to go. Beets that were roasted instead of boiled had a lush, jelly-like texture and a slight but alluring smokiness. When I discovered pomegranate molasses–a tart, intensely fruity syrup used throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, made made from the boiled-down juice of sour pomegranates–I knew I’d found my beets’ soul mate.

Beets now star in two of my Jewish-holiday menus: as part of a thick, wintery borscht served alongside the Chanukah latkes, and in this blood-orange salad, always served for the Passover Seder in springtime It’s not that there’s a particular affinity between beets and Jews; it’s just that, with a lot of guests on hand, I can count on more conversions.

This salad has flipped–for good!–many a self-avowed beet hater. Right now is a great time to try it, since both late-season blood oranges and early-season beets are available. Why blood oranges? Well, the beets are going to stain everything magenta anyway, so why not start with something that already matches? Also, there’s a fruity-berry quality to blood oranges that matches the tart, almost winey flavor of the pomegranate molasses.

I’ve made this for my mother, and she likes it, well enough. But not as much as she still loves her Harvard beets.

Ruby Beet Salad
Adapted from The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love, by Stephanie Rosenbaum.

Ingredients:
1 bunch beets (3 or 4 beets), unpeeled, stalks & leaves removed
2 oranges, preferably blood oranges
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses*, or to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

* You can find pomegranate molasses at Haig’s Delicacies in San Francisco or at Indus Foods (1920 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley) in the East Bay.

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Rinse beets and place them, still wet, on a square of aluminum foil. Fold the foil around them to make a nice little package. Pop in the oven and roast until you can slip a knife easily through both beets. If there’s any resistance, let them roast some more; the more tender, the better. Remove beets from oven and let cool in packet. When beets are cool enough to handle, slip off skins. Cut into wedges and set aside.

Grate the rind off one of the oranges, tossing the grated rind with the beets. Cut the now-bald orange in half and squeeze the juice over the beets and rind. Drizzle on pomegranate molasses, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss and taste for seasoning. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Just before serving, peel and slice remaining orange and add to salad.

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About the Author ()

Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen is a longtime local food writer, author, and cook. Her books include The Art of Vintage Cocktails (Egg & Dart Press), World of Doughnuts (Egg & Dart Press); Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams Sonoma); Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books) and The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press). She has studied organic farming at UCSC and holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She does frequent cooking demonstrations at local farmers’ markets and has taught food writing at Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Continuing Education program at Stanford University. She has been the lead restaurant critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian as well as for San Francisco magazine. She has been an assistant chef at the Headlands Center for the Arts, an artists' residency program located in the Marin Headlands, and a production cook at the Marin Sun Farms Cafe in Pt Reyes Station. After some 20 years in San Francisco interspersed with stints in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, she recently moved to Sonoma county but still writes in San Francisco several days a week.
  • http://piequeen.blogspot.com Stephanie Rosenbaum

    In case you’re wondering where those sexy beet models came from, they’re regular red and stripey Chioggia baby beets from Star Route Farms, bought at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market in SF. The Pasta Shop on College Ave. in Rockridge also carries pomegranate molasses.

  • http://nilliem.diaryland.com Anne

    I love beets, but of course I grew up with fresh only roasted or boiled, but not a mush. I lived in the Midwest for half of my life, and now have been in New England for the other half. Where I was introduced to the ‘idea’ of Harvard beets. And just…ick. I stick to pickled or roasted, heh.

  • Pingback: No Beets in the White House Garden - Well Blog - NYTimes.com

  • eric

    no other food has ever made me go through such a U-turn in personal tastes. when I was a kid, the purple slices would not even be considered for an instant. Now, I don’t care how “horrible” the form — canned, roast, whatever — the flavor is incredibly good. now that I think of it, all those big roots are yummy.

  • Conley

    In case you’re wondering where those sexy beet models came from, they’re regular red and stripey Chioggia baby beets from Star Route Farms, bought at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market in SF. The Pasta Shop on College Ave. in Rockridge also carries pomegranate molasses.