Why haven’t I done this before? “Beets” me!

Misc. / June 6, 2014

For the longest time, I had a rather unsentimental view of beets. Fed to me from a can, warmed to a slow death on my school lunch tray, and enemy of all white apparel; these were my deeply held beliefs and what I thought were valid reasons to take the long way around the buffet line. Of course things change, and you are introduced to the finer side of a beet. That included having them on a salad, or with pickles and chicken breast. Not very sophisticated but at least a step in the right direction.

Soon I had my first brush with the elegance of this misunderstood tuber and delved into a plate of roasted beets, thinly sliced, and sprinkled with delicious condiments one might find ONLY in a very snooty restaurant…and I was hooked.

My first salad of this genre was at a farm-to-fork restaurant The Local Dish in Fort Mill, SC. And it was there that I was served my first “golden” beet. Later I began to see it prepared by some of my favorite TV chefs, read about it in Food and Wine, and saw it featured in nearly every hot spot. Gosh, it appears this little item was no menace after all. In fact, it was the darling of low maintenance veggies. Subtle in flavor, tolerant to cooking and favorable to so many accompaniments.

Dang it all, it was time for me to create a dish of beets myself.

Washing a fresh beet and the long leafy stalk is like laundering the great, purple train of an exotic European costume. The graceful greens are variegated and intensely patterned. Their texture, soft and velvety. At the end is this beautiful claret pearl whose shape is somewhat reminiscent of the clever swirl at the top of a Dairy Queen soft serve with the tendril at the end extending several inches outward, as though its search for water was insatiable. I almost hated to cut it off. But even better rewards were in store.
After a good bath, and a snip at top and bottom to create the easy-to-love orb, I wrapped it in foil, pierced each with a sharp blade about three times, and put them in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes. When I removed them from the oven and then from the foil, they retained their beautiful shape even after sitting for about 10 minutes to cool slightly. Never yielding to the wilting heat, they gave up their skins willingly, cleanly, and without effort, yet the insides were bright, smooth and soft, without being mushy.

When cooled, the art began. I sliced them thinly, arranging them carefully around the perimeter of a dish; one gold, one red, one gold…and so forth. Then I layered them with paper thin slices of white sweet onion. Then, drizzled a mild olive oil on them, and ladled a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice. I then scattered julienned strips of fresh garden basil. After that, was a smattering of chopped salted cashew pieces? Finally I gave them a fine dusting of cracked pepper, a loving arrangement of pink Himalayan sea salt, and then in the middle, spooned a lovely, white dollop of Greek yogurt. To make it pretty, I put a series of long, blanched green bean along the corner, slit lengthwise to reveal the delicate little pea-shaped seeds in the middle.

Then, oh yes. Then…I grabbed my fork and ate like a crazy woman. Well! I was hungry! And, pretty darned proud. I can honestly say that now it is my NEW favorite salad – SERIOUSLY it is GOOD.




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