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.”

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.

 

separate two eggs: roasted beet parsnip salad and christmas for one

Manzanita, OR.After the darkest day of the year, one can’t help but feel a little brighter.  I took advantage of the day to (appropriately) finish up changing my name on nearly all my documents and accounts and such.  To burn bright in 2014!  That is my mandate, my motto, my personal crest, my raison d’être, my challenge.

Perhaps I should invest in a fire extinguisher.

I’ve been cooking, and anticipating with great joy my Polish Christmas for One.  The theory is to spend far too much time making a miniature version of the 12-dish meatless, fish-heavy Wigilia.  It’s a celebration of being able to cook whatever I want and eat when I want, delighting in the pleasure of being alone and unfettered and ending the year without any more terrible disasters. Hope MUST return, I’ve decided, if only in one-week increments.

Please note the celebratory aspect.  It is far more disturbing, I’m discovering, for others to envision me spending Christmas alone than for me to live the reality of it.  Christmas has always been a quiet affair in our house, involving a break from elaborate dinner parties or socializing or social media or work.  And this year will be no different.  It will just be fancier with Polish dishes and calmer without arguing and more grey and fluffy and energetic and bitey and jumpy and maniacal.

I’ve got salt herring and pickled herring and gravlax.  I have beet kvass souring for borsch, and yellowfoots for mushroom pierogi, dilled sauerkraut for braising, fresh sweet cabbage fermenting with apples, carrots, and cranberries, and apple butter for a miniature cake, and grains for kutia.  There’s vodka and a bottle of good dry Riesling.  I’m still working on the rest.  There will be a little fish, ridiculously complicated, or maybe a crab.  Or oysters?

IMG_5075Anyway, before all that, I am happily eating a new dish made from glorious candystripe beets a new friend pulled from his garden for me.  A fine present for solstice, and unexpected.  I like that.

This pretty and simple warm salad, made with my own parsley and parsnips freshly dug from Tell Tale Farm, is in his honor, as it tastes of our Willamette Valley earth.  The secret is in roasting the parsnip batons separately from the beets with nutmeg and ginger, so they can get crispy and caramelized.

IMG_5094Pretty, no?

Warm Roasted Beet and Parsnip Salad

  • 3 beets (candystripe or other light-colored ones that won’t stain and mute color of parsnips)
  • 1 parsnip
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • handful of fresh parsley
  • fruity vinegar (homemade raspberry vinegar, if you have it; I used my foxy grape-star anise vinegar)
  • pepper
  • Equipment: 2 roasting pans and foil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Scrub beets well, cut in half or quarter if extra large, and place in one roasting pan.  Toss with a glug of olive oil and some salt until well-oiled.  Cover pan with foil and roast in oven until easily pierce-able with a fork. (40 minutes? Depends on the size of the beets.)

Peel and cut the parsnip into small batons, and mince ginger.  In a second roasting pan, and toss with a glug of olive oil, salt, and powder well with a good strong shakes of nutmeg.  Roast uncovered in the oven with the beets until browned and crispy. (15 minutes?)

Chop parsley and set aside.  Remove parsnips from oven when done and leave uncovered and unrefrigerated.

When beets are done, remove the foil and let cool until you are able to handle, then peel off skin with a paring knife.  Slice beets and place in serving dish.  Toss with a good splash of vinegar and some more olive oil, then add parsley, parsnips, and perhaps a little pepper.

Serve while still warm.  It makes a great light supper dish for one with some feta sprinkled on top, or a side dish for sausages or pork chops for 2-4.

Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone.  Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing to add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

cold soups made with a magic elixir called kvass

IMG_5306My new addiction is an old Russian fermented drink called kvass. It’s great as a breakfast juice or as an afternoon refreshment on a hot day: slightly sour, ice cold, a strong nose of beery grain or funky beet.  it’s a drink for those of us who like deep, dark, barnyardy flavors.  Or beer!

As discussed in my Russian zakuski party post, kvass is a healthful tonic full of enzymes and the lactobacilli that are the new popular kids on the block.  Whey can be added to rye bread or raw vegetables and fruits with nothing more than water, and the liquid will magically be soured to your taste.  Like lacto-fermented pickles, kvass sits on the counter until the good bacteria multiply and give it a characteristic tang.

I’m at work on my first blackberry kvass and a fermented version of tomato juice that I’m planning to push on an unsuspecting friend for bloody marys, and I will report back.  Until then, I wanted to share some easy cold soup recipes using kvass as the base, since I’ve already gone on about it and I can’t get enough.

IMG_5201Easy Beet Kvass

Chop up two big red beets; add to a half-gallon jar with two teaspoons of salt and a 1/4 cup of whey, sauerkraut juice, or a similar fermented liquid to hasten fermentation.  I used fermented dill pickle juice in the photo above, which is why you see a juniper berry floating on top.

Fill jar 3/4 to top with water and stir. Let sit on the counter for 2-4 days, depending on how sour you’d like the mix.  (I went for 4 days and the flavor was great for soup.)  Skim off any mold bits daily.  Strain and refrigerate.  Drink as is, or use uncooked as a liquid for cold soups, correcting for salt.

Beet Kvass Borscht

Serves 4.

There are various names for soups like this in Russian and Polish, but let’s just keep it simple.  You have two choices here: you can add your vegetables and let sit in the stock overnight for improved flavor but a thoroughly hot pink color; or you can add your vegetables just prior to serving for pretty colors (above).  It’s, as they say, all good.

To a quart of cold kvass, chop up and add some or all of the following: cooked beets of various hues, cucumbers, scallions, chives, dill weed, apples, hardboiled eggs.  Serve immediately or let flavors develop in the refrigerator.  (But if you decide to add eggs, place on top just before serving.)  Taste and salt if necessary.  A gamechanging addition, should you have it on hand, is a good slug of dill pickle juice.  Or try kimchi juice?  Optional garnish: more herbs, a dollop of sour cream.

IMG_3596Rye Bread Kvass

This recipe is slightly more complicated and gooey than beet kvass, and yields a mildly alcoholic brew. You’ll need to get your hands on decent rye bread, either light or dark, with no preservatives.  Darker rye, such as the thinly sliced German or Russian stuff that’s bursting with grain and almost moist, is terrific but will yield a darker color for the kvass. In the picture, my kvass is a combination of about 1:3 dark:light rye. Alternatively, you can make your own rye or buckwheat mash, but I’ll leave it up to your powers of the internet to find a recipe for that.

I’m going to play with yeast types (I’ve heard ale and champagne yeasts make better kvass) and did not bother to secondary-ferment my kvass, as I wanted it for soup and fizzy soup sounds kind of gross to me, so let me know if you have any advice.

  • Half gallon jar or crock
  • 5-6 slices good quality bakery or German rye bread
  • packet of active dry yeast or piece of sour dough or 1/2 cup whey
  • fresh juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • handful of raisins
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • (For secondary fermentation, you will also need a 2-liter plastic bottle or similar)

Dry bread in the following manner: (1) let it sit on your counter until hard; or (2) toast in the oven until hard and golden brown.  If it burns a little, that’s ok, since it will add to the flavor.  Place in half-gallon jar.

Boil 7 cups of water and pour over bread in half-gallon jar.  Cover and let sit overnight.

Strain bread and press very gently to get as much liquid out as possible.  Discard bread and pour liquid back into jar.  Add yeast or sourdough or whey, lemon juice, honey, salt, and some raisins.  Cover and let sit on the counter for 2-4 days, checking for bubbles (good) and skimming off any moldy bits (bad) daily.  It should smell a little like beer once it gets going and look like the photo below.

IMG_3642For secondary fermentation, strain the kvass through cheesecloth and pour into a 2-liter bottle.  Add a few raisins to bottle.  Seal the cap and let sit for a few days.  Fermentation will build up inside the bottle.  When the raisins float to the top, it will be done.  Refrigerate and use as a drink sweetened with more honey, or as a delicious cold soup stock.

IMG_3664Okroshka (Cold Rye Vegetable Soup)

Serves 4.

Similar to the borscht recipe above, add chopped vegetables to a quart of cold rye kvass.  Since this is a clear soup, don’t add beets or the color will be ruined. Season with a bit of and a healthy dose of dill pickle juice, whole grain mustard, salt, and parsley.

There are as many versions of this soup as there are Russians.  Sandor Katz offers a version with potatoes and turnips in addition to the apples and cucumbers, but I’m not sure I like the texture of potatoes in cold broth because they are softer than the crisp apples and tend to taste merely waterlogged to me. I might try a version that is only cold cooked veg, though: yellow or chioggia beets, tiny waxed potatoes, tiny turnips, steamed Dutch round carrots. Several recipes call for the addition of chopped fermented dill pickles, a brilliant touch if you ask me.

In any case, the soup is even better with more dill and sour cream mixed in.

Oh, and one more.  I already posted my cold melon and cucumber soup made with kvass recipe here, but for sake of completeness…

Melon Cucumber Soup with Shiso

Serves 6.

  • 1 honeydew or other pretty green-fleshed melon
  • 3-4 medium pickling cucumbers or one firm, medium-sized cucumber
  • 1/2 cup kvass
  • 1/2 stale dinner roll or a slice of white bread
  • a pinch or two of salt
  • 1/4 cup any chopped green or banana pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons tarragon
  • 5-6 green shiso (perilla) leaves, plus more for garnish, optional
  • crème fraîche for garnish, optional

Wash and peel melon, cut into chunks.  Peel and seed cucumber only if using one of those grocery store kinds with leathery skin and big seeds.  Tear bread into pieces and soak in kvass.  Add to food processor bowl or blender melon, chunks of cucumber, kvass/bread, salt, peppers, tarragon, and shiso.  Blend until as smooth as possible.  You might try pressing through a food mill or chinois after this step, if you and your guests are fancy.

Refrigerate for several hours, up to overnight but not more, to blend flavors.  Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and a chiffonade of shiso in each bowl.

purple lettuce for moderns

Forget those Memorial Day burgers, the cool kids are all eating purple lettuce.  I saw more varieties than you might imagine at the farmers market this weekend.  I love the way the burgundy gives way to green innards in this butter lettuce at Lost Creek farm, where they also featured purple romaine hearts (first image) or Horton Road Organics (second).  But if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, try some oakleaf ‘malawi’ lettuce from Wintergreen Farm:

Or, if you swing both ways, consider Organic Redneck McKenzie River Farm’s speckled lettuce.

Any purple lettuce would be delightful served simply with tiny roasted red beets (above, peeled by my able assistant) and a vinaigrette made of homemade blackberry vinegar.  Hold back, if you can, on the goat cheese, creamy dressings, or bright vegetable additions, all of which would mute the naturally gorgeous color.

pickled mustard seeds and beet stem relish

Well, I made it to Indiana, and I’ll be here for a week or so, working on my book at the Kinsey Institute, before heading to a conference in Ohio and a visit with family.  Before I left, I made a great saag paneer dish with the rest of my collards and cilantro, which were bolting, and beet greens from the lovely beets we’ve been getting in the market.  Beets are wonderful because you can use all their parts — greens, stems, roots.

I mentioned the beet stem relish I made a few weeks ago (recipe below), but I wanted to discuss a nice bonus that comes from the pickling process: pickled mustard seeds.

Pickled mustard seeds are wonderful, and so easy.  I like to add them to any salad or salad dressing where I’d normally use sharp whole-grain mustard.  They add a delicious crunch. Because they’re preserved in vinegar, salt, and sugar, and are meant to be cold, fresh, and lively, they keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.  As they sit, they get stronger.  These are not meant for processing.  The flavor is sweet and sour.  Adjust sugar per your fancy.

Yellow mustard seeds (as opposed to the brown or black ones, which can be bitter in this preparation) are best.  They can be most cheaply purchased in bulk at a health food store or Indian market.

The brilliant salmon color of the ones above are due, of course, to the dark red beet stems. You could slip a sliced beet in your pickle to mimic the color if you like.

I’m including two recipes, one for the beet stem relish and one for plain pickled mustard seeds.  Enjoy!

Pickled Beet Stem Relish

Yield: 2 pints.

  • 3 cups finely chopped young beet stems
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onion or red onion
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pickling salt
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp fennel or dill seed
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard seed

Trim the leaves off the beet stems.  Rub the stems under running water to remove all traces of mud.  Finely chop the stems — this is important, as they will be tough and stringy in larger pieces or batons.  Chop the onions and carrots in similar pieces.

Wash and sterilize two pint jars (I pour boiling water into the newly washed jars, or you can take jars immediately out of the dishwasher.)  Combine vinegar, water, sugar, salt and spices in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt.

Scoop out spices from the brine and add to warm jars.  Add raw vegetables to jars, pressing down gently so they are packed generously but not too tightly.  Pour boiling brine in jars up to about an inch from the top.  Cover with plastic lids or metal lids protected by a layer of plastic wrap (so the lids won’t corrode).  Let sit on counter until cool, then refrigerate for at least a few hours before eating.  Pickles will keep with excellent quality for about a week.

Pickled Mustard Seeds

Yield: 1/2 pint.

  • 1 cup white wine vinegar, or any homemade vinegar (no need to worry about acid levels here, since it’s a refrigerator pickle, not a processed one). Consider berry or cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pickling salt
  • 2/3 cup yellow mustard seed
  • one slice of raw red beet for color (optional)

Wash and sterilize one pint jar (I pour boiling water into the newly washed jars, or you can take jars immediately out of the dishwasher.)  Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt.  Remove beet slice.  Let cool and store overnight in refrigerator.  Keeps in refrigerator for weeks.

Quick Beet Raita

Raita is a cooling Indian condiment made from yogurt and spices and the occasional vegetable like cucumbers, carrots, or, as I discovered, beets!  I used about a 1/4 cup of beet stem pickle for 2 cups of plain, full fat Greek yogurt, then folded in a few shakes of cumin, coriander, and white pepper.  Salt to taste, then add a 1/2 cup of sliced or chopped roasted beets and a handful of chopped cilantro.

think pink

Finally, beautiful weather.  I celebrated Earth Day with the fuchsia tones of my blooming azaleas, beets as long as my arm, and jeweled sushi.  We weeded the garden and planted more seed, including poppies, carrots, leaf celery, dill, and borage.

I took advantage of the beet stems and greens, something I highly suggest.  Made beet stem pickles using my pickled chard stem recipe, but the beet stems are stringy, so it’s best to chop them up.  I was thankful I thought to experiment with a chopped quick pickle relish using the leftover vinegar and bits of stems, spring onion, carrot, dill flowers, and fennel seed.  Made a terrific addition to bean tacos, a barley salad, and salmon.

The mushrooms, beets, and bright pink radishes all came from the Lane County Farmers Market on Saturday.  The sushi was yet another delicious meal from Kamitori.  Chef Masa worked with the Cinema Pacific staff to host a dinner reception after Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about a 3-Michelin-star sushi restaurant’s 85-year-old chef in Tokyo.  If you haven’t been to Kamitori, on Willamette and 11th, you really should go and experience Japanese sushi.  It’s unique in Eugene.  See my review in the Register-Guard by following the links here.