Now I know how many of you were probably turned off already by that first word – beets. But I also know that if the only beets you ever tried are out of a can or sliced real thick and boiled for a couple of hours – you haven’t had REAL beets! Please — give beets a chance :)
We have an old family photo of my brother as a toddler, his face covered with red beet juice, a testament to how much we loved this vegetable as children. Yet I absolutely hated those imposters they served at the school cafeteria. The trick is in the cooking method. Slicing them up and boiling them for a long time just pulls out all the natural sugars that make this vegetable so delicious. There’s also some kind of weird flavor that develops during that method and the canning process, it’s not good. But I love beets cooked the way my mother would make them for us as children.
Get some fresh beets, peel them and coarsely grate them (as large of a grater setting as you have). Add a bit of water and steam them gently for just a few minutes. With a little butter and salt, you’ll think you’re eating a whole different vegetable! And all those amazing nutrients are still in there too. While you’re at it, make sure you choose a bunch of beets that is fresh enough to have usable beet greens. These are great just sliced up into ribbons and sauteed with onion and a bit of balsamic vinegar.
The other way to cook beets and retain their flavor is by roasting them. Last spring, I posted a great recipe that involved cutting beets into cubes, roasting them in a single layer and then topping with feta cheese. This week, I made one more Georgian vegetable dish, Charkhlis Chogi – beets roasted whole, then peeled and sliced, and topped with a sauce made from tart dried cherries. I decided to use yellow beets because of the color contrast, but also because Whole Foods had some seriously large yellow beets with nice looking greens. Beets are usually sold by the bunch, so I usually go for the large ones – you might think they’d be tough or woody at a larger size, but I haven’t found that to be true, other than perhaps a slightly thicker skin to peel off.
Beets w/Cherry Sauce (Charkhlis Chogi)
1 lb. beets, unpeeled but scrubbed clean (3 or 4 good-sized beets)
1 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
1/3 c. tart dried cherries
2/3 c. water
1/4 c. minced fresh herbs (dill, cilantro, parsley)
Sea salt, to taste
First, heat the oven to 375F and roast the cleaned beets on a rimmed baking tray. I cut mine in half from root to stem just because they were so large and I wanted to make sure they wouldn’t take forever (placed cut-side down on the tray). Roast for about 1 hour until fork tender.
Meanwhile, saute the onion in butter for a few minutes until soft and starting to brown. Add water and cherries and reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and blend/puree this together to make the cherry sauce, putting back on the stove for a few minutes to simmer and reduce if it seems too liquid.
When the beets are tender, you may want to let them cool just a little before handling. Peel and slice the beets thinly, then top with cherry sauce and fresh herbs. Grate some fresh sea salt on top, to taste. Or, mix it all together and serve as a salad. This dish seems to have the best flavor at room temperature or even slightly chilled.