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.”

of cabbages and drag kings: a gay marriage salad

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Searching for the perfect reddish pink salad to serve your “gay-wedding” guests?  Seek no further.  With most of the blue states and every single rhetoric instructor ever chuckling over the Supreme Court transcripts for two cases challenging the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, it’s clear we need to celebrate with something simple and sassy, something that waves the colors and is topped with a veil of crème fraîche.

I vow love for this early spring salad: love, love love.  It’s my take on downtown restaurant Belly‘s tangled beet salad.  I’ve loved her since the day I met her — only a week or two after the restaurant opened.  It was a little unusual, I’ll admit, for one so carnivorous to love, really, what amounted to a pile of leaves, but we weren’t committed to traditional and outdated definitions of marriage, only fearing the censure of the courts.  So we capered about, rejoicing in our newly minted promise to be true.  We occasionally faced tough times, sometimes united in furtive silence, sometimes daringly holding hands in front of our close friends.

And being progressive and the sharing type, I’m opening up this relationship to you.  You can thank me in your champagne toast.

Keep in mind that she’s a local girl.  You can pick her up in the markets this weekend.  Some tender, nubile cabbages are ready now, or you might have a wizened old specimen hanging out in your crisper — I don’t judge.  Beets are also a great storage crop, so I hope you have some left or can get some larger ones at the market.  You made some berry vinegar last year, right?  This salad cries out for the special combination of sweet berries with vinegar, and I even add more fruitiness with a splash of pickled cherry juice.  Spearmint and fennel fronds are up in gardens right now; you might skip the fennel but don’t omit the mint.

Crème fraîche, which is essential to serve on the side, is stupidly easy to make with some cream and buttermilk. Don’t you dare buy it.  Recipe below.

So if you think we shouldn’t legislate love and really want to move forward, this salad is really a perfect way to celebrate spring, when the world is mud-luscious, and the queer old balloonman whistles far and wee.

Beet and Cabbage Salad with Mint, Fennel, and Crème Fraîche

Serves 4.

  • 1/2 small head of red cabbage, or quarter head if larger (aim for 5-6 cups of shreds)
  • 1 medium dark red beet (3-4-inch diameter)
  • 3-4 shallots, sliced very thinly
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed (salt-cured are better than brined)
  • 2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons berry vinegar (substitute balsamic)
  • splash of pickled cherry juice or cranberry juice, if you have it
  • handful of spearmint, leaves rolled up and sliced finely in chiffonade
  • fennel frond tips, torn into little pieces
  • 1/2 cup or more crème fraîche

Shred the cabbage as finely as you can with a knife.  Do the same with the shallots, then soak shallot shreds in cold water for 5-10 minutes to remove some of the strong flavor.  Drain.  Using a box grater, grate the beet.  Toss vegetables with the salt and capers, and set aside for 15-30 minutes.  Whisk together the oil and vinegar, and add to shreds.  Just before serving, add the splash of juice, then top bowl with a chiffonade of spearmint and little fennel frond bits.  Serve with a generous dollop of crème fraîche for each serving.

Crème Fraîche

Makes 1.25 pints.

  • 1 pint freshest, most organic, lovely heavy cream you can find
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 quart-sized jar (pint is too small)

Plan ahead several days before serving, as it takes time to set up.  In the gloomy, rainy PNW, it often takes mine three days, but I like it thick and tangy.

Mix together cream and buttermilk in a sterilized jar.  Cover with cheesecloth and let sit on the counter for anywhere from 1-3 days, depending on how thick you want the final product.  The longer you wait, the stronger the flavor.  Don’t bother mixing it, as it will even out over time and get a uniform thickness.  Refrigerate and enjoy with soups, salads, or desserts.

the unexpected pleasures of savory watermelon

As soon as the sweet, dense, singular Eastern Oregon-grown Hermiston watermelons hit the market in late July, I try to keep a tub full of ready-to-eat slices close by in the refrigerator, just in case a heat-related emergency arises.  But heat and watermelon can be even chummier, I realized last night at an illuminating supper.

Taco Belly (which no one calls by its official name, Taqueria Belly) is the fancier new Belly’s scruffy kid sister, but no less beloved by its owners and staff and customers.  The regular menu is good, but the specials…well, sometimes the specials just Knock. It. Out. Of. The. Park.  I submit to you Exhibit A:

A grilled watermelon “salad,” special du jour du yesterday.  Watermelon salads are usually fussy things, with little cubes and precious dots and twiddles and fringes.  This was big, luscious slices of watermelon, grilled on a hot fire with the rinds on.  Then the slices were topped with pepitas, fresh goat cheese (I think), a simple roasted salsa roja, and a smattering of white onion and cilantro.  The pile is crowned with a few edible nasturtium flowers, which add not only fiery glory but a peppery and slightly bitter note.

This morning, admittedly high on watermelon, I found an elegant appetizer of salmon sashimi draped over a spiced watermelon refrigerator pickle from the slightly odd blog My Man’s Belly.  You can find her recipe linked in the watermelon category of the Punk Domestics preservation collective blog.  You might try smoked salmon, homemade gravlax or quickly seared salmon, as well.  Oregon salmon, of course.

But we can’t stop there.  I’ve been saving a recipe from the Bite of Eugene last year for exactly a moment like this, an original recipe that Iron Chef Oregon 2010, our dear Gabriel Gil of Rabbit Bistro & Bar served at the festival and distributed to attendees. Watermelon gazpacho. Yes.  It’s a subtle and perfect blend of watermelon and sweet, acidic summer tomatoes, with red peppers, cucumbers, onion and garlic to provide the underpinnings a good gazpacho needs.  It was my favorite soup last summer, so I asked Chef Gil (last year, hope he remembers) if I could post it on the blog.  And I trust my delay will be your future pleasure!

The soup should be started the night before you plan on serving it, since it needs to sit for 12 hours.  I suggest using dark, high acid tomatoes and Sungold cherry tomatoes, but any garden tomato is a winner in August.  You might want to reserve some of the vegetables for a little garnish in each bowl.  Straining the soup through a fine sieve is really an important step for a mind-blowing texture that will make your guests roll their eyes back into their heads in delight, but if you don’t have a sieve and don’t mind a more rustic finish, the blender will do.  You will still be loved.

Rabbit Bistro’s Watermelon Gazpacho

  • 2 lbs. assorted heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 pint basket heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • 1.5 lbs. clean watermelon, no seeds
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 baguette, diced
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cup dry red wine, preferably Spanish
  • 1 cup olive oil, preferably Spanish
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large container, mix all ingredients well and press on the tomatoes and watermelon, ensuring that they release enough liquid to almost cover the mixture. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Blend, in a blender, in batches, and pass through a fine sieve.  Serve in chilled bowls.  Serves approximately 8.

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.

chop chop!

We’ve been eating copious amounts of salad.  When lettuce gets tiring, and it soon does, consider a spring vegetable chopped salad.  This one is grilled chicken, breakfast radishes, carrots, garlic chives, two kinds of arugula flowers, and parsley.  Toss with any salad dressing — ours was a tarragon vinaigrette.  And an asparagus chaser.

german pickle juice potato salad

One of the nicest parts of pickling is the run-off.  Yes, the leftover pickle juice.  I’ve always kept a jar of dill pickle juice in the refrigerator for potato salads, deglazing, and soups.  And I use any leftover vinegar solution to quick pickle whatever vegetable is handy: carrots, cauliflower, chick peas…

My latest batch of senfgurken sweet mustard pickle had me perplexed, however.  I couldn’t really use in my normal way the half-cup or so of strong, sweet, spicy cider vinegar solution that was left after I had packed the jars.  But happy fate intervened, and threw some cooked Sweet Briar Farms pepper bacon my way.  I still had some wonderful red potatoes from my garden and some gorgeous whole grain mustard.  And best yet, I had ham from Del Del Guercio and Laughing Stock pork, traded for a melange of pickles and jams.  I knew I’d have to make German potato salad.

I didn’t peel my potatoes since they were small, but spent a few minutes picking out yucky strings of peels that had disengaged from the flesh.  Don’t recommend.

Enjoy with any pork product on the earth.

German Pickle Juice Potato Salad

Serves 4 as side dish.

  • 1/2 cup of sweet pickle juice run-off (no dill if possible)*
  • 1/4 cup very thinly sliced white onion
  • 2 lbs. waxy potatoes (I used ‘Red Desirée’), peeled
  • 1 T. whole grain mustard
  • 3-4 slices high quality cooked bacon, chopped

Cook and chop bacon, and set aside.  Peel potatoes.

Place peeled potatoes in pot of well-salted cold water, with enough water to cover.  Bring to simmer and cook potatoes until just a bit underdone.

Bring pickle juice to a boil with the onion and mustard.  Pour into bowl large enough for potatoes.

Remove potatoes from water and let cool only enough to handle.  Slice carefully and place in large bowl, stirring carefully to allow vinegar to coat after slicing a couple potatoes (adding hot potatoes to vinegar is to discourage discoloring and encourage liquid absorption).

Add bacon.  You might also add chopped green onion or parsley for color.

Let sit for a couple of hours for best quality before serving.

* Or, replace with 1/2 c. best quality cider vinegar, 3 T. sugar, 1 t. salt, 1 t. yellow mustard seeds. (Correct taste if the solution seems too sugary or not salty enough for you.)

tiptoe through the tulips salad — when winter just won’t give up

The tulips were finally in their glory last weekend, but the rain did its best to wipe them off the face of the earth.  I find early spring in Eugene kind of depressing.  April is the cruellest month and all that.  The combination of wanting to be outside and the damp chill always get to me.  I can’t get warm.  I need sun.  The dirt beckons!

Kind of creepy so stated, no?

Ah, what better to pitchfork you out of the funk than a brilliantly colored, flavor burst salad that does perfectly well with storage apples and the rest of fall’s sauerkraut?

This magenta-red sauerkraut, apple, and carrot slaw is of Polish origin.  I don’t think I’d make it with store-bought sauerkraut.  But if you find yourself with a big jar of homemade stuff, or better yet, several jars of homemade stuff taking up half of your refrigerator because you couldn’t resist the beautiful cabbages you saw for just pennies a pound last fall…go for it! (And if you’re interested in learning how to make sauerkraut, take a $5 OSU Extension Master Food Preserver Kitchen Quickies class on exactly that topic on May 13!  More information in the box to the right.)

The proportions are approximate.  If you like more carrot or apple, adjust accordingly.

The bright colors of the carrots and sauerkraut will stay true and won’t bleed, so feel confident that you can prepare this ahead of time.  Serve in a glass bowl, so everyone can dig the color.  Vegans will love the blend of pro-biotics, raw vegetables, and a hint of sweetness that suggests the faintest sin.  Others may very well enjoy it with grilled sausages.

Polish Sauerkraut-Apple-Carrot Slaw

Serves 6-8 as side salad

  • 1 quart red sauerkraut
  • 2 firm, tart apples (granny smith work well)
  • 2-3 medium carrots
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/2 t. caraway seed

Grate the apples and carrots in a food processor.

Rinse the sauerkraut if necessary to eliminate some of the salt.  Drain sauerkraut well.

Chop the sauerkraut and add to large bowl.  Add apple and carrot.  Dress salad with olive oil, sugar, and caraway, to taste.

Allow salad to sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving.