A Note from Bobbie Lewis: Here’s another wonderful guest blog from Isaac DeLamatre, head of the kitchens at Antioch College. Personally, I don’t like beets, even though I’m a big veggie fan and I’ve been tempted by many beet dishes that look delicious. I think it’s genetic, because my dad, who also loved veggies, wouldn’t eat beets. Someone once said beets taste like dirt smells; that about describes it for me! But my husband loves them, and I know lots of my readers do too, so enjoy Isaac’s offering.
Velvety, blood red, roasted and peeled. Beets resemble recently removed hearts floating in post-op flotsam. It would be grim if they were not so delicious.
The voluptuous tuber of this particular beta vulgaris (known colloquially as the “beet root” or in days gone as the “blood turnip”) absorbs from the earth esoteric wisdom and is an apothecary of vitamins and medicinal applications. Carbohydrate sugars and amino acids abound; you will not tire of the copious amounts of beets coming in from markets and gardens throughout the fall and winter months.
When roasted, cooled, peeled and sliced, the beet root acquires the soft, velvety texture of sashimi. It slithers as it is chewed, releasing its flavors, and happiness, and satisfaction.
Beveled, slender, scarlet and fuchsia stalks burst upward towards the sky elevating and supporting deep green, red veined solar snares. Each leaf perfectly able to use raw sunlight as a catalyst to transform UV rays into plant energy and edible carbohydrates. Each tuber perfectly able to harvest minerals from the soil and make them available for human consumption. Each plant perfectly succulent.
In search of the inherent wisdom of beets and the truths that they seem to embody, I have come to realize that the beet is the personification of truth itself. I cannot yet define how or articulate why, but slice open a fresh beet and gaze at the infinite fractal display of beauty within. Then count yourself lucky, as the universe has just shown you its face.
Sweet and juicy, the peppery citrus-flavored leaves of the young beet are fantastic eaten raw. As the plant matures, gentle-heat cooking methods are suitable for preparing the green tops.
Steam the greens and season them with salt, pepper and a little vinegar or toss them with a little tamari and sesame oil for a basic dinner side. Sauté them and fold them into an omelet or scrambled eggs to get your fiber and energy; beets are high in B vitamins, making them great vegetables for which to break-fast and start your day.
Innumerable ways to cook them
The beets are of such outstanding virtue they have lent themselves to be prepared utilizing any culinary preparation currently employed by human beings. The humble beet has graced my palate as deep-fried roasted beets with schichimi togarashi at Austin’s famed East Side Kings food truck,as lacto-fermented beet kvass from Fab Ferments in Cincinnati, and as raw slaws shredded up at home.
One of my mother-in-law’s favorite preparations is beets cubed, tossed in salt, pepper and oil, and roasted with other root vegetables of the season like sweet potatoes and turnips. Everyone I know has a grandmother with a recipe for borscht, each one different from the other, like so many snowflakes.
If you decide to take a stab at growing beets yourself, beware. The deer and bunnies love the tops of beets and will appreciate the imprudently guarded garden. They will thank you by mowing them to the ground.
When selecting beets, choose those that are very firm, with stout, crisp, intact greens and stems. They should shimmer and glow when halved, revealing the complex patterns and rich colors inside. Old or low-quality beets will appear dry, ashy and limp. Do not bring these beets home with you. Reject the beets that are soft and doughy or misshapen.
Below is a recipe that will deliver satisfaction to the most novice or senior beet aficionado. You will have no problem creating a worthy dish with even the most elementary of techniques and preparations.