The beet is a vegetable that likes to take its time, rejects the lure of instant gratification, but rewards commitment.
In America, thanks to the travesty of industrial canning, the beet has gotten a bum rap until fairly recently. Not that the beet has been completely ignored—it’s been the darling of molecular gastronomy for some time, and in the hands of gifted chefs continues to evolve to ever-delightful and mind-bending heights.
Yet home cooks are still scaling the entry level barrier of converting the hard-as-a-rock dusty bulb into a tender, tantalizing slice of sweetness.
Last Sunday at the farmer’s market I saw a woman holding a bunch of beets and just staring at it.
“Do you know how to cook it?” she asked me just because I was next to her, greedily loading up. I couldn’t believe my luck, this random opportunity to initiate and convert a novice!
I come from Eastern Europe where beets are a necessity and a pleasure. In that part of the world they like to boil them, which is a shame—unless we are talking soup—as the juices naturally escape in the cooking process.
I roast my beets and then marinate them in an emulsion of olive oil (preferably unfiltered) and vinegars, spiced with salt, pepper, ground fennel or celery seeds and garlic, with scallions for a dash of green or fresh leeks for added crunch.
This time of year provides many opportunities for pairing beets with other root vegetables, herbs, and evergreen legumes that form rich combinations and patterns of textures and flavors. Three of my favorites are inspired by Moroccan spices, a hearty winter salad of my Russian childhood, and Kabees – a classic Middle Eastern condiment that uses beets for coloring (though I eat it).
Kabees: Pickled Root Vegetables with a Kick.
I first saw a container of the popular Middle Eastern condiment of Kabees at the refrigerated section of a bodega in Fall River, Massachusetts where I was visiting my college friend for a Labor Day weekend at the beach.
He bought a container of the striking magenta colored root vegetables to serve with his stand-by platter of hummus, pita, feta cheese, Greek olives, and roasted peppers. They provided a refreshing contrast in color and texture to the creaminess of hummus and the astringency of the feta and olives.
I’ve also seen a variation on Kabees served on charcuterie platters in fine New York City restaurants and in my own house it has become one of the preferred chasers for vodka martinis and shots of slivovitz.
1 Medium Size Beet
1 medium size rutabaga or white turnip
5-7 bulbs of Karami Daikon Radish
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded
1. Peel and slice vegetables in cubes, batons, or circles, whatever you like.
2. In the container or a jar that will store the vegetables combine vinegar, sugar, and jalapeno.
3. Throw in the sliced vegetables, close the container or jar tightly and shake.
4. Refrigerate for 12-24 hours before serving. Shake the container periodically to make sure the color spreads evenly. Keeps for a week, but it is so delicious it will not last.
Prep time: 20 minutes plus 12-24 hours for brining
Serves at least 10