Thursday, October 7, 2010

Beets: 2 ways.

Hello, autumn.

It was cold this morning. I don't know about you, but the first morning with a bite in the air is the best day of the year. Suddenly, everything changes. Your mood, your outlook on life, your energy level - all are instantly lifted. Today was that day, and with my autumn euphoria came a craving for all the tastes the season has to offer.

Although I was tempted by many ideas - butternut squash, brussel sprouts, apples & cinnamon - I found some beautiful local beets and dill at the market. Beets! I love them. They are a misunderstood vegetable, and most are a little wary of trying them out at home. I mean, who wouldn't be? For many, the only beets they have ever been exposed to were the gelatinous, over-sweet candy things on a salad bar from a can. But, be not afraid - beets in their original state are lovely, and if prepared correctly, and combined with some key flavors, can be delicious.

The picture above shows what a beet looks like in its raw state. The root (the part most people are familiar with), is the part that is deep fuchsia and can be shredded and eaten raw, roasted whole, diced and roasted, boiled, or sauteed. In general, make sure to generously salt your beetroot, to balance out it's natural sweetness and up the flavor.

But that's not all the beet has to offer. It's greens, much like a turnip green (the greens that grow from the turnip root) can be eaten as well. For the green lovers out there (my southern contingency), these delicate leaves will make you happy. When sauteed, their bitter taste is complimented with oil and garlic and results in a slightly intense but yummy flavor. They can also be steamed and drizzled with balsamic as a healthy side dish to any autumn table. As you will see from the risotto recipe below, I love to combine the beetroot and greens in one dish, using the whole plant from top to bottom in one beet-er-rific creation.

There are certain flavors that bring out the best in the beets: vinegar (especially sherry, balsamic), olive oil, dill, thyme, rosemary, cheese (goat, parmesan), walnuts, honey, oranges, yogurt, mustard, lemon, pepper, shallots, tarragon, and butter. In knowing this, you can come up with about 5 beet salad variations all on your own that are sure to be loveley. Just dice and roast the beets (salted) in the oven, then toss with a little oil, an acid of your choice (orange juice, lemon juice, or vinegar), a complimenting herb (tarragon w/orange, mint w/orange or lemon, dill w/vinegar or lemon), a little sweetness (pinch of sugar or honey), and top with a little cheese and crushed walnuts. The result will be beautiful, full of nutrients, and very, very yummy.

I found both red and golden beets at the market, and couldn't make a decision (as usual). So, here are two beet dishes that show their versatility.

The first is a beet risotto. Risotto is a classic Italian rice dish that uses the starch in the rice mixed with cheese and vegetables to create a deliciously creamy result. Many will tell you that risotto is a pain, because you have to stir it constantly for 30 minutes. Well, I don't do that, and it tastes great, so don't be intimidated to give it a try. While I am usually all about substituting healthier options, this dish requires white arborio rice. Replacing this with brown rice or even long-grained white rice will not do the trick. Adding veggies to this dish helps balance it nutritionally.

Risotto also calls for 4 cups of vegetable stock. I don't know if anyone feels this way, but finding affordable, natural vegetable broth is a challenge. If you are lucky enough to live near a Whole Foods, you are all set, because they sell cartons of their organic vegetable broth for under $2. I travel to Orlando once a month to stock up on this, as well as a couple other staple. If you are relegated to a shopping at a regular grocery store, just make sure the broth isn't filled with all types of chemicals. Or, make your own, which will make your risotto even more tasty.

The golden beet salad is super simple, and is best served on the second day. I like the simplicity of this dish when I am serving it with a heavier main course. However, if you would like to dress it up a bit, use walnut oil in place of the olive, and top with chopped walnuts and a spoonful of goat cheese.

Creamy Beet Risotto
Makes 4-6 servings

1 tablespoon earth balance butter (or regular)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 shallots
1/2 onion
3 small beets
3 garlic cloves
1 cup beet greens
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine (sherry or other)
4 cups vegetable broth
1/3 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
sea salt & black pepper

Start by prepping your vegetables. Dice onions and shallots, and mince garlic. For the beets, separate the greens from the root. With a knife, chop off all the knarly looking parts from the root, and then peel with a potato peeler. Chop into a fine dice (about 1/4 inch). Don't fret if they are not all exactly the same, but they need to be small in order to cook in time. For the greens, wash thoroughly by submerging in a large bowl of water, swirling them around, and then removing the greens with your hands into a colander. Once dry, chop roughly. Chop rosemary as finely as possible.

Pour the vegetable broth into a small saucepan, and heat over medium. Keep heated while you make your risotto.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion, shallots, and beetroot until onions are translucent and a little brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, and beet greens - cook for another 1-2 minutes. Season generously with sea salt and pepper.

Add the rice, stir to coat with butter and oil. When the rice becomes fragrant (about 2 minutes), add the wine and simmer until all the liquid has evaporated.

With a ladle, slowly add the broth to the rice, about a cup at a time. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir the rice often, with a wooden spoon, being careful not to break it. When the broth is soaked up, add another cup. Continue to do so until the rice is tender (taste it each time). This should take about 25-35 minutes. The risotto should have a loose, creamy, pourable consistency.

Remove from heat, and stir in the parmigiano. Serve immediately with additional cheese if desired.

Picked Golden Beet Salad
Makes 2-3 servings

3 medium golden beets
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt & pepper
2 teaspoons local honey
handful chopped fresh dill

Preheat oven to 450. Wash beets, then rub them with oil and season with salt. Place on cookie sheet and bake in oven until tender about 1 - 1.5 hours, depending on size. Use a knife to test.
Let beets cool for 30 minutes.

Once beets are ready to handle, remove the skins by hand. They should come off easily, but if not, use a small knife to help.

Shred beets on a mandolin, or with a knife. If you use a knife, slice beets as thin as possible into sheets, then into long, thin strips.

In a medium bowl, toss beets with remaining ingredients. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if necessary. Refrigerate overnight, taste again in the morning and adjust seasoning.

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