Beet Maestro

I recently came across this essay from Chez Panisse alum Tamar Adler’s new book, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. I think the opening line really sums up an excellent life rule: “A salad does not need to be a bowl of lettuce. It just needs to provide tonic to duller flavors, to sharpen a meal’s edge, help define where one taste stops and another begins.” The entire essay is worth reading, especially in these upcoming months when our summer tomatoes are a distant memory. Root vegetables, Ms. Adler reminds us, can do much more than serve as a warm starch on the side of a plate.

Of course, root vegetables require a little more work than summer veggies. Beet preparation in particular, I have discovered by trial and error, can be a messy, messy undertaking. As much as I love steaming, pressurizing, and grating the root, the collateral damage of peeling – garnet-stained hands – can be frustrating, especially when hosting dinner guests. As a result, roasting has become my go-to beet prep method; it is the easiest, cleanest and tastiest method. At least that’s what I’ve come to believe, anyways.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but as the Suzuki method has taught us, if I catch you early enough in your beet journey, and with constant repetition, you, too, can be a beet maestro. If you’re ever at home for more than an hour, crank up the oven to 400. Fully wrap each beet in a piece of tin foil, place them on a baking sheet to prevent drips onto your oven floor, and roast away.

Beets are very low-maintenance, so now you’re free to do whatever you want. My own tastes run towards petting the cat, reading library books, and/or catching up on the latest news via Perez Hilton – or, um, I mean, working out.

At around the 50 minute mark, test your tin-foiled beet by sliding a fork into it. If the fork does not easily slide in and out, give your beets another 10 minutes and test them again. Repeat this method until the fork pierces the beet with little to no effort, then remove from the oven. Once the beet is cool enough to handle, open the foil, head on over to the sink, stick the beet into a stream of running water and rub off the skin. It will be quick and clean, but make sure to wear an apron, just in case.

And turning your beets into an Adler-esque salad is almost as easy as roasting them. Just toss them with a quarter cup of roasted nuts and a drizzle of vinegar and olive oil. The only real work involved in this dish is making sure your nuts don’t burn. Think 325 for about seven minutes, with an eagle eye and the nose of a bloodhound.

I usually toast my nuts in the toaster oven my friend Brian bought me with his Jeopardy winnings.

(A fresh apple or two, diced into the same sizes as the beets would be a nice addition to this salad. I did not, however, add them to this salad, because fresh apples give me a bellyache, and I am going to eat this salad now that it’s been photographed.)

This blog post and ridiculously simple recipe was in support of Sweet Local Farm’s Home Grown Food Challenge.

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