Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 39 Issue 14 • August 6-12, 2009
now in our 39th season

Beet It!

by Jenn Farmer
Sous Chef at Bartlett's Farm

In my opinion beets are one of the most unique root vegetables out there.  Not only are they delicious and beautiful, but they are so versatile.  The color from beets has been used for centuries in the dying of cloth and intensifying the color of other foods.  Beets are very nutritious they are high in potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, foliate and betaine among others.  They are considered by many cultures to be a blood or liver cleanser, and the juice is often drunk to cure or treat many ailments.  But if you are eating or drinking beets, be aware that beets cause pink or red urine—it can come as quite a shock if you are not expecting it 

The history of the beet begins around 4th century B.C. when recipes for chard and other relatives of the beet family were recorded by the Romans.  They ate primarily the greens, which are tasty and nutritious.  Today there are a great variety of beets to choose from.  They range in color from white to deep red or yellow.  The lighter colored beets tend to have a milder flavor than the more colorful varieties.  I personally love the deep yellow or red varieties myself, their flavor is earthy and sweet, just what I expect from a good beet.  Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for the more unique candy stripped or white varieties of beets, they are elegant and can be real show-stoppers if prepared correctly.  Plus, since their flavor is milder, they take well to more delicate flavors like mild fish, chicken, or baby greens.     

Considering beets are so earthy in flavor, it is amazing to me that they compliment so many flavors.  Beets go well with horseradish, goat cheese, citrus, nuts, fresh herbs, beef, fish, pasta, and even dark chocolate.  I stumbled on the most interesting article recently on making beet ice cream too!  The chef tried several flavor combinations, and reported that beets go very well with cinnamon, vanilla, and cardamom, which I find very interesting.  The article has inspired me try to make a sweet beet cheesecake (I have had savory beet cheesecake, and it was divine!). I will write up the recipe if it is successful! 

Beets keep very well, and can also be stored for the winter by canning, freezing, or dehydrating them.  Some people even store them in root cellars for eating later in the year.  For those of you unfamiliar with root cellars, they were the first refrigerators.  People dug a hole in the ground, with an access doorway and stored their perishable food items there.  Root cellars are about 30-40 degrees cooler than the above-ground temperatures in the summer and maintain consistent temperatures in the winter.  Root cellars are probably going to make a big comeback in the future, since they are energy efficient and inexpensive to build.  There are some pretty cool books and websites on how one can build a root cellar for food storage.  These books give details on how to properly build the cellar to prevent cave-ins and create proper air circulation to prevent rotting, etc.

In addition to being tasty, economical (you can eat the leaves and the roots!), and easy to preserve, they are fun to cook with.  When beets are roasted or boiled and pureed they have the most amazing creamy texture, reminiscent of ketchup, and can be thinned for soup or used as is for a side dish.  There are so many methods of cooking beets, whole roasting is great since the skin can be left intact and the flavor concentrated a little bit, plus the color retained.  Others love to peel and cut the beets smaller for roasting, creating more surface area for the natural sugars to caramelize, and give the beets a different, almost crispy texture.   

I could go on and on about all the amazing ways to prepare beets, but one preparation I miss is from a restaurant I once frequented when I lived in Reno, Nevada.  It was called the Blue Heron, and was vegetarian.  The restaurant unfortunately closed down, but even after ten years, I still crave their food.  They had a salad called Govinda, it was amazing.  It was topped with lemon tahini (sesame butter) dressing that was so very unique and complimentary to the grated raw beets and carrots in the salad.  Since I am not a vegetarian I make this salad with seared tuna, and it is really great.  Although I don’t have the Blue Heron’s original recipe this is a pretty close recreation.

Ode to the Blue Heron’s Govinda Salad

  • About 6  cups baby or mesclun greens
  • 1/3 cup grated raw carrots
  • 1/3 cup grated raw beets
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup garbanzo beans
  • 1/4 cup sprouts

Portion the lettuce into four separate bowls or plates and artfully arrange in a color palate the remaining ingredients.  Serve with lemon tahini dressing on the side.  You may want to double the dressing recipe since it is very tasty and good on raw veggies.

Lemon Tahini Dressing

  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sesame tahini
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2-4 garlic cloves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons - 1/4 cup water

Blend all ingredients into blender except water, and pulse.  Add water to thin to your desired texture.  I like to keep it thick if I am using it as a dip for crudités, but thinner if I am making a salad.  Season if necessary with salt and pepper.  Please enjoy!  Serves four.

Another unique recipe I have always loved is for beet ravioli with poppy seed butter.  I have adapted and revised the recipe for a simple dish that has beets tossed with fresh fettuccini, butter and poppy seeds. 

Beet Fettuccini with Poppy seed Butter

  • 2-3 red or golden beets, roasted or boiled and grated
  • 1/2 pound fresh fettuccini, cooked
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
  • 1/2 Tablespoon poppy seeds
  • Freshly grated hard cheese like parmesan or asiago
  • Thinly sliced fresh chives

Preheat the oven to about 400 degrees F.  Wrap beets individually in foil and bake for about 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a knife.  Let cool for a few minutes before opening since there is a lot of hot steam contained in them.  Open carefully so as not to get burned, and let cool completely.  Peel and grate the beets. 

Melt the butter in a saucepan and toss in the poppy seeds.  Add the beets and cooked pasta.  Toss and serve garnished with cheese and chives (perhaps a little lemon zest if you are feeling creative.) Serves four.

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