beet box: over 30 ways to serve the ruby orbs in your refrigerator crisper

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Having been rather beeten down by a mountain of beets, I turned to my Facebook readers, who generously suggested some new and thrilling recipes for this unmistakable vegetable.

Most of my own favorite recipes, unsurprisingly, minimize the sweetness and hail from Eastern European roots.  These include the spectacular molded Russian chopped beet, herring, vegetable, and egg salad called Herring under a Fur Coat that Portland’s Kachka has made fashionable again.  Or perhaps my Polish-style grated salad of sauerkraut, apple, carrot and beet (mixed at table).  And I always have on hand beet kvass to sip or fortify cold borschts.

But shall we head over to India with a beet raita and pickled mustard-seed beet stem relish instead?

If none of my recipes appeal, you might like some of these:

  • Similar in style to beet kvass, you might try fermented beet pickles.
  • Nutritionist Yaakov Levine suggests a simple raw salad of cups grated raw beets, juice of one lemon, 2 tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of fresh dill.
  • A cumin-scented, grated beet quinoa with chickpeas?  Why not?
  • The Master Food Preservers turned me on to this beet chocolate cake at a potluck.
  • Cinnamon-poached beets, which are braised in liquid with cinnamon sticks.
  • “Dirt candy!” said one reader, recommending roasting simply. Some folks use olive oil, and some use butter, plus salt and pepper.  I always add thyme, and orange zest if I have it, when I’m roasting beets in foil.  It’s a great shortcut to peeling beets, as well, since the skins slip right off after roasting.
  • My favorite recipe is a warm salad that uses light-colored beets, parsnips, a fruity vinegar, and plenty of grated ginger.
  • Chef Yotam Ottolenghi does beets, I am told, with tomatoes, preserved lemons, roasted red peppers and more. The word in the Math-Science library on campus is “It’s delicious.”
  • Beet salad with walnuts and feta or a walnut oil vinaigrette, adding rosemary and/or parsley, or go more exotic with a:
  • Moroccan-style beet salad with mint, grapefruit, and red onion, or Lebanese-style with pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and mint.
  • Belly’s delicious beet, red cabbage, capers, creme fraiche and mint chopped salad is a must in early spring as soon as the mint comes up. Here’s my version with fennel fronds.
  • Or get even more creative with your pomegranate molasses and try Chef Chris DeBarr’s “Beet the Day ravioli,” which is a name I just made up: “Roast ’em (yellow ones give the best illusion of pasta), peel ’em, slice ’em as thinly as possible, whip soft chèvre with truffles (peelings are okay, but I frown on truffle oil), stuff a good dab of the trufflicious goat cheese on a round, top with another thin round.  In the restaurant we took it next level by briefly heating the faux ravioli in a hot oven in avocado oil (cuz it is more heat stable than olive oil and rich yet neutral in taste), finishing with pomegranate molasses and red wine syrup from Sardinia called saba, and sprinkled with pink Himalayan salt…but you can just use the inexpensive pom molasses and call it a day.”  OK, will do!
  • In Australia, my friend and fellow travel writer Richard Sterling recounts, they put a slice of beet on a cheeseburger, reminding me of:
  • PartyDowntown’s beet ketchup for winter months when tomatoes aren’t in season.
  • Chopped beets with brown butter, ricotta, and pistachio as a topping for thick short pasta shapes was suggested, and I heartily agree: the beet/soft white cheese/pistachio is one of my favorite flavor and color combinations. See, for example, Melissa Clark of the NYT’s recipe here. Or take a hint from 900 Wall restaurant in Bend, which turns the pistachio into a pesto and serves the beets and cheese à la caprese.
  • Another pasta recipe you might try includes chopped beets, Oregon blue cheese from Rogue creamery, and beet greens sauteed in a little olive oil.
  • Beets and grains go well together. I remember having a wonderful wafer-thin raw beet and emmer wheatberry salad with goat cheese, showered with sesame and sunflower seeds, at Sitka and Spruce in Seattle a few years ago.  Or sample, as a reader suggested, a beet risotto with goat cheese and hazelnuts.
  • And if all else fails, put them “In the compost. Don’t look back.”
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christmas cheez-its

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Instead of cookies, I made Christmas cheez-its, powered by Crossroads Farm’s pasilla, esplette, and Hungarian cherry pepper powders.  They were a hit.  I may never bake cookies again.  Especially good served with smoked whitefish dip.  So my present to you is the recipe. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Cheese Crackers

Yield: 2-3 dozen, depending on how thick

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into slices when cold
  • 2 cups white wheat flour or wheat/rye combo
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces extra sharp cheddar, or a cheddar/stronger cheese mix like aged gouda
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • Smoked paprika or esplette or pasilla powder and sesame seeds for topping

Cut butter into pieces and let sit on counter to soften.  Grate cheese. Add an ice cube to a bowl of water to chill.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor bowl; pulse to combine. Add the butter and cheese and pulse until mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Add 2 tablespoons water and pulse until the dough falls away from the sides of the bowl and can be formed into a crumbly ball, adding a little more water if necessary.

Divide the dough in two, forming it into a disk if you plan to roll it out, or a log if you’re lazy like me and just want to slice it.  Chill for 1 hour to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325° F. Either roll the dough out or slice your log into pieces 1/8-inch thick (no more!).  You may need to let it warm up first on the counter a bit if you chilled overnight for easier rolling. You are aiming for thin, crisp crackers, so take care to make thickness even and consistent.

For Cheez-It-like bits, cut into 3/4-inch-wide squares and poke a hole in the center of each square with a skewer.

Place crackers on parchment-lined baking sheets and brush with egg white, then dust with paprika or the like and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake until the dough is not shiny/raw and barely golden on the bottom, about 20-22 minutes. Store completely cooled crackers in an airtight container.

*Note: I forgot to brush with egg white, so the toppings slid off for the photo.  Follow me at your peril!

 

 

herring under a fur coat, or, a portrait in damnation, or, russian food is the greatest

IMG_8210Russian food is the latest and greatest trend.  OK, I don’t really care what the latest and greatest trend is.  But I am gaga over Russian food right now in this, the endless Oregon summer…

It must be, I think dreamily, like an endless Russian summer, so impossibly short and crammed with fresh berries and beets and onions and herring and sweet new potatoes and greens that one can’t believe it will ever be dark and cold and time for fur hats again…

…then I’m off to St. Petersburg and I’m Anna Karenina, pining with love.  The injustice.  The peasants in the fields drinking kvass.  And I’m Orlando on the ice, spinning, spinning…

Oh wait, that’s not summer.  Or happy.  Nvrmnd.

I’m a dacha garden, smartly lined rows, outgreening my brethren in the smiling sun.  And I’m a yellow kvass truck, chugging down the thoroughfare, children chasing me.  And I’m billows of rich, sour cream.  And I’m a squat dumpling filled with beef and veal and chives, waiting to be bitten and my juices drunk. And I’m soft loose berry preserves, waiting for tea.

Sigh.

IMG_7883 IMG_7864I have taken the opportunity to indulge in Portland’s trifecta of Russian eateries (as reported by my dinner companion, ex-Eugenius and current Merc food critic Andrea Damewood here): Chef Vitaly Paley’s glorious pop-up, DaNet; the Sellwood food cart Russian Horse; and the truly marvelous Kachka.  And I can’t get enough. (Above, pirogies at Russian Horse and a cocktail featuring a fur coat of olive oil and smoked trout salad at DaNet.)

A quick Russian luncheon dish, then, a 20th century working man’s classic, Seledka pod Shuboi, or more familiarly, “Herring Under a Fur Coat.”  According to legend (and the link above), salted herring symbolizes the proletariat, potatoes symbolizes the peasantry, beets symbolize Bolshevik blood and the mayonnaise symbolizes, um, French people who also did that whole Revolution thing.  Shuba is not only the acronym for “Shovinismu i Upadku – Boikot i Anafema,” or familiarly, “Death and Damnation to Chauvinism and Degradation,” but also the word for fur coat.

Death and Damnation to Chauvinism and Degradation!!!!!

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Luckily, I happened to have on hand some salted herring in oil, purchased at the Good Neighbor Market in Portland after being yelled at by a little old Russian man for my idiocy in not understanding that he wanted me to help him thread his arms with his grocery sac so he could carry it like a backpack.  I’ve bought salted herring at Newman’s in Eugene, but not in oil — perhaps you’d need to oil it yourself.  (Above is the market’s sign and some beautifully burnished metallic-hued smoked mackerel).

My version of death and damnation contains yellow beets, since I didn’t have any Bolshevik blood handy, and it substitutes homemade sour cream with just a touch of Hellman’s for the mayo.  Vive la Résistance!

You might think of this as a herring-laced version of the midwestern modern classic, 24-hour salad.  It’s a pressed, molded savory cake of love.

Herring Under a Fur Coat

Using a plate as a base, mound up layers of cooked grated veg and chopped salted herring in oil:  potatoes on the bottom, then herring, then onion.  Rest.

Pour a little sour cream over.  And a little dill?  Or a grated dill pickle?  Then add carrot, beet, and the rest of the sour cream.

Grate some hardboiled egg on top and add a bit more dill.

Carefully mold into a cake shape, pressing with your hands to solidify the shape, and wrap in saran wrap then refrigerate overnight to let the layers combine.

Eat as a crowning achievement, or as a centerpiece to a workaday zakuski party.

 

stalking the backyard daylily

IMG_7707A proud clump of orange daylilies or tiger lillies (H. fulva) graces one corner of my garden, blocking out a poppy and a lavender bush and encroaching on my daffodils.  Disdainful, I stopped in my murderous tracks a few years ago when I read one can eat most parts of the plant in a blog post by wildcrafter Hank Shaw.

I’ve since read more about them, including the history with some dubious tasting notes, and a chapter in Euell Gibbons’ classic, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, which seems to be a book that lights up the eyes of people who wish they were wholly foraging for food (while shopping at Whole Foods).

Being one of those people, mostly, I knew I had to take my dreams of a feral future and make them a reality, so I stalked the daylilies in my backyard.

What, you say you don’t know what a daylily is?  This is a daylily:

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Not a daylily (with an added bonus of an artichoke to symbolize the choking you will do when you eat a poisonous cultivar of true lily, below):

IMG_7714You can immediately tell them apart because the daylily grows in a big clump and has long, skinny leaves growing from the clump, but the true lily has many short opposing leaves growing up each stalk that culminates in a flower. Another things that differentiates them is that daylilies frequently repatriate to the wild, and they often resist the elements in parks, old lots, and meadows.  More on identification here.

The buds, flowers, stalks, and root bulbs of the daylily are all edible, but being a lazy hunter-gatherer, I went for the easy stuff: the buds.  Pick them when they are just about open, and don’t delay, since the ‘day’ part of daylily is not false advertising.  They ripen, bloom, and are gone in 24 hours.  You can see one bud just ready to be plucked to the left of the daylily in the image above the poison-choke-lilies.

IMG_7680Ever have Chinese hot and sour soup?  The “golden needles” or lily buds are none other than the dried buds of the daylily.  I dried a bunch and plan to use them in soups.  Apparently, they let off a slightly gelatinous ooze when you cook them, so they thicken up nicely.

The rest of the buds I plucked to eat in the manner I love vegetables the most: quickly dry-fried and salted.  You may have enjoyed padron or shishito peppers prepared this way, or perhaps Sichuan green beans.  Daylily buds rank right up there with the pleasure, and their unusual origin and utterly free cost to you will make you the star of all the foragers in your neighborhood.  OK, maybe not my neighborhood, since there are real foragers who live here, but if you live in a neighborhood without any, let me know and I’ll move there, since I could use a little stardom.

Anyway, the recipe in the first photo for dryfried daylily buds couldn’t be easier.  You’ll love the taste (but be careful, as apparently some folks are allergic or react poorly to the very mild and delicious greenbeany taste, likening it to armpit sweat).  Try just a couple at first to see if you are one of those unfortunate souls.

Heat up a heavy pan, cast iron if you have it, on high until it smokes.  Toss your daylily buds in a tiny bit of oil just before you toss them into the hot pan.  Smoke will ensue, so take the pan outside, flipping the buds with a spoon for just a few minutes until they are charred in spots and softened.  Salt with a coarse-grained finishing salt and serve immediately.

spicy silky fermented kim chi

IMG_7601I’ve been asked a few times to post a “normal” kim chi recipe, the ubiquitous kind at Korean restaurants, with napa cabbage and spicy sauce.  Your wish is my command.

The last time I made this recipe, I was teaching a demo on fermentation to the brand spankin’ new Master Food Preserver class of 2014, and I had the distinct pleasure of horrifying our eminent leader, Nellie Oehler of Dutch extraction, who likes her pickles sweet but still gamely tried a piece of my kim chi.  Her face reminded me that this is not a recipe for everyone.  But as she said, smiling as she grimaced, “I’ll try anything once!”  And so should we all.

I like this recipe because it retains the spiciness and color better and has a lovely silky texture, thanks to the porridge made of sweet rice powder that binds everything together. The porridge, I believe, is a style of the south.

I never hesitate to throw in seasonal vegetables: the last batch I made contained cubed tiny turnips and young daikon with their leaves from the farmers market (thanks, Groundwork Organics!) and strippings from the aging kale in my garden.  You might experiment with fresh new carrots, thinly sliced green garlic, garlic scapes, radishes…the list goes on.

If you’re a fan of kim chi or want to see more background on kim chi techniques, you might want to read my daikon cube kim chi and white kim chi with pear recipes, too.  Add some shiso pickle and salted cucumber slices with sesame seeds, and you’ll be well on your way to a fancy Korean banchan (set of kim chi dishes that accompany meals).

Spicy Silky Kim Chi

Yield: varies, about two quarts when finished.

  • 1 ½ lbs. white napa cabbage
  • 1 small Korean radish (“moo”) or enough daikon for 2-3 cups cubes
  • brine: 2 tablespoons salt plus 5 cups water
  • 3-4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup Korean salted shrimp, minced*
  • 1/3 cup fine (vs. coarse) Korean red pepper powder (“gochu karu”)
  • porridge: 1/2 cup water plus 1 tablespoon sweet rice powder**
  • 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1-2 cups shredded young kale, mustard, or turnip greens
  • 1 small Asian pear or green apple, thinly sliced into matchsticks

The night before you plan to make the kim chi, rinse and cut the cabbage into 2-inch square (no larger) pieces.  Peel and cut the radish into thinly sliced half-moons. Toss radish and cabbage, then add a brine made out the salt and water. Let mixture sit in bowl on counter for 8-12 hours.

Wash your hands, counter, and cooking equipment well. Drain the brine from the vegetables and prepare the kimchi souse and rice porridge.

For the porridge, add 1/2 cup of cold water to a saucepan, then add immediately the sweet rice powder. On medium low, whisk the powder into a solution, and cook for a few minutes, whisking constantly, to create a sauce the texture of paste. Let cool on the stove.

For the souse, make a paste in a food processor with the garlic, ginger, sugar and shrimp.

Mix the souse, porridge, and the red pepper powder into the cabbage and radish mixture well with your hands (you might want to use gloves if your hands are sensitive to spice), massaging spices into the cabbage.  Add a little bit of water to ensure everything is nice and pasty, and the souse covers the cubes.  Add the scallions, greens, and Asian pear slivers, and mix well.

Place the kim chi in a half-gallon or larger-sized glass jar that has been thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.  I use a 3L hinged jar without the rubber ring, so I can close the jar but not seal it.  It helps to use a canning funnel to get the stuff into the jar — you’ll get red pepper paste everywhere.

Let sit on the counter for about 2 days, mixing and pushing down the vegetables into the souse.  After it starts to bubble, let rest in the refrigerator for 5 days before eating.  You can actually eat the stuff at any point from right after you make it onward, but it tastes better after a few days.  It will keep in the refrigerator for a month or so, but the flavor will change over time.

*Purchase at an Asian grocery store like Sunrise, available in the refrigerated section. The shrimp should be tiny and bright pink and very salty.

**I use Mochiko, a Japanese brand, which is widely available, but you can buy it in bulk at Market of Choice.

as american as roman honey pickled cherries with savory

IMG_3581Looking for a new locavore cherry recipe in anticipation of the sour cherry crop now ready to go in the Eugene area?  Go no farther than ancient Rome.

A fellow participant in the Cult of Pre-Pasteurian Preservation and Food Preparation Facebook group page, Justin Mansfield, wrote that one of his favorite Roman preservation recipes is this one, a pickled cherry concoction using honey, red wine vinegar, and savory. He provides some details for Classics geeks and historical recreators:

Since there’s some interest, here’s the original recipe, from the 10th century Roman agricultural collection Geoponica (Farm Work) 10.42: Περὶ διαμονῆς κερασίων· Τοῦ Αὐτοῦ. Κεράσια ἀφαιρεθέντα τοῦ δένδρου πρὸ ἀνατολῶν ἡλίου, καὶ εἰς σκεῦος ἐμβεβλημένα, προϋποβληθείσης εἰς τὸν πυθμένα θρύμβης, εἶτα κερασίων, καὶ πάλιν θρύμβης, καὶ ὀξυμέλιτος γλυκέος ἐπιβαλλομένου φυλάττεται· καὶ εἰς καλάμους δὲ ὡσαύτως φυλάττεται.On the preservation of cherries, by same {i.e. this recipe is excerpted from Florentius, a lost author of the Imperial era}. Cherries that are picked from the tree before sunrise and put into a container, with savory first strewn over the bottom, then cherries, then once again savory, and sweet oxymel added on top, will keep. They’ll also keep the same way with rushes.

The species referenced are probably Prunus cerasus, and Satureja thymbra respectively. (No idea what kind of rush is referred to here… the name refers to several species. Dalby also points out that it’s unclear if the meaning is “laid out on rush mats” or “with rush-leaves used in place of savory.”)

He also notes that other sources indicate the honey:vinegar ratio should be between 6-8:1 parts by volume, not weight.  I opted for less sweet, and may just regret it, since I chose a very full-flavor, acidic Italian cabernet vinegar.

The cherries should be sour pie cherries, not sweet ones (but I’m willing to look the other way if you can’t get sour).  The recipe reads as if the Romans didn’t pit the cherries, but you may opt to do so.  I usually buy my sour cherries at Hentze Farm in Junction City, already bagged and pitted because I’m so lazy.  Pros: no sticky pitting on a hot day; easier to eat final product; and you get a quart or so of the most glorious juice in the world.  Cons: not nearly as pretty as intact cherries; you’ll need to pick through the cherries for bruised ones, as the machine handles them roughly; and you don’t get the nice almond flavor from the pits when pickling them.  In either case, you must use sour cherries almost immediately or freeze them, as they are exceedingly fragile.

Romans didn’t cook with sugar; honey was a basic sweetener.  For locavores, you already likely rely heavily on honey and even might have a hive or two to help mitigate the bee crisis.  As for me, I made this recipe with a wild star thistle honey I bought on the road in California, since it seems vaguely Mediterranean and has the scent of almonds from nearby groves (or so I fantasize).  But if you’re in the market, there’s some local thistle honey that’s being sold at Sundance, distributed with other wonderful varieties like pennyroyal, snowberry, meadowfoam, buckwheat, and coriander. (The coriander is grown in fields north of Eugene, Hummingbird Wholesale tells me, and the pennyroyal tastes a little like mint.)  Also in honey news, I hope you caught the interview with new Eugenius and prolific cookbook author Marie Simmons on Food for Thought on KLCC last weekend.  She has just published a book on honey, with history and recipes.  Marie was our last interview before our summer hiatus, so check out the archive if you missed it and you miss us! :-)

Anyway, the Roman pickled cherry recipe is wonderful with homemade duck rillettes, which I had for breakfast in a moment of sheer decadence.  Life’s too short for Cheerios.  As Epicurus would have said, had he known the phrase, carpe diem!  The savory brings out a, well, savory quality of the cherries.

Honey Pickled Cherries with Savory

Makes one quart.

  • 4 cups sour cherries, either pitted or not
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/8 cup wine vinegar
  • 12 two-inch sprigs of savory (either winter or summer; I used winter, which is stronger)

Wash and sterilize a quart jar.  If you are using fresh sour cherries, rinse and sort out the bad ones.  If you are using pitted cherries, strain cherries and sort for badly bruised ones.  Reserve the juice unless you are completely nuts.  Pour yourself a shot of pure sour cherry nectar and knock it back.  Ah, there.  OK, now proceed.

Heat the honey and wine vinegar in a medium saucepan, then take off heat and let the cherries soak in the mixture for a few minutes.

Rinse savory.  Place 3-4 sprigs at the bottom of the jar, then add another layer in the middle, then add some on top to help keep the cherries immersed in the liquid.

Using a jar funnel, carefully ladle the cherries into your jar, pressing down gently to fill gaps, and adding savory in the middle and on top.  Fill with 2 inches head space.  You may have more cherries than necessary; if so, enjoy over ice cream with more honey.  If there is not enough liquid, either add back the juice you removed or press down a little harder on whole cherries to encourage them to exude juice.

Place on a plate, and cover jar with cheesecloth.  If you used unpitted cherries, it is especially important that you have enough overflow capacity. Let sit on counter for 48 hours minimum.  At this point, taste and decide if you want to ferment longer for a fizzier, deeper, sweet-sour flavor, or otherwise refrigerate.  Pitted cherries will ferment faster.

Enjoy as a condiment with any roast meat or sausage, as a special side on a cheese plate, or, as I just did, with duck rillettes.

smoked trout spread at the seashore

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I know the delicious pastries, custards, and pies are distracting, but you may have noticed some of Noisette Pastry Kitchen‘s savory offerings.  Of particular interest: any quiche, pot pies, the goat cheese scones, takeaway pork rillettes and pâté, cassoulet for three people in a pie tin for $18 (YES! best deal in town), and fillets of smoked trout seal-wrapped for the most marvelous…IMG_2964

…smoked trout spread.  I’m eating it while watching the spectacular waves outside my hotel on the coast, where I escaped to work on my book proposal.  Smoked trout is brainfood, but you might choose instead to prepare it for a televised spectacle or something.  You surely have something better to do than sit inside and write a proposal.  Might I suggest making it for a winter beach picnic with someone you <3 ?

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Smoked Trout Spread

Serves 4 with crackers or celery sticks.

  • Half a brick of cream cheese (about 4 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup of creme fraiche or sour cream
  • Half a smoked trout fillet
  • Handful of parsley
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Chives (optional)

Soften the cream cheese in the microwave for about 5 seconds, or let sit out for 15 minutes.  Combine the cream cheese and creme fraiche or sour cream in a food processor, and process until big chunks are gone.  Add trout, parsley, and shallots and process just until combined.  Taste and correct seasonings (mine needed salt but not pepper, since the fillets were smoked with cracked black peppercorns).  Top with more parsley or chopped chives.