From before biblical times when cuneiform was the written word beets were being cultivated, dug-up and enjoyed. This plant of the Mediterranean Basin produces an earthy-sweet sub-terrain tuber as well as tenderly sweet leaves to employ.
These beet roots come in more than just the blood-red staining varieties I remember having, and not so fondly, as a kid. The candy stripe, white and golden versions promise you will not end up washing your hands with the vigor of Lady Macbeth. Plus they tend to be a bit sweeter without that loamy quality of more conventional red ones. However, for a Russian style borscht soup, either or cold, nothing can replace the usage of the sanguine globes found almost anywhere. Besides that the one dish, I freely use whichever variety catches my eye on the day.
I like to purchase my beets with there greens still attached. This reason is twofold: firstly, I can tell how fresh they are if the leaves are still perky, then secondly, I get leaves to sauté just like I might spinach or Swiss chard.
If the beets are very fresh I will slice them paper thin, and toss the beets with vinegar or lemon juice for a bright salad. Though usually I roast them, wrapped in aluminum foil with a drizzle of water – set at the ubiquitous 350 for 30 minutes or until fork tender. Then you just have to rub of the skin with your hands. Of course, you can boil them to tender as well I just find roasting them creates a depth of flavor due to the caramelizing of the beets during the roasting process.
Borscht - yields 8 to 10 servings
4 pounds beets – peeled
2 pounds celery root – peeled
1 large onion – peeled
5 garlic cloves – crushed to a pasted
1-teaspoon caraway seeds – bruised
1-teaspoon celery seed
4 quarts vegetable stock
1/4-cup cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a food processor fitted with the grater attachment or with a hand held box grater, shred the beets, celery root and onion.
Place all the ingredients in a 10-quart soup pot, and bring to a boil over a high flame. Reduce the flame to simmer, and cook for 1 to 11/2 hours. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve hot or cold.
Roasted Beets in Minted Vinegar
3 pounds beets
1 onion - thinly sliced (I prefer a sweet style onion)
1/2 cup mint - roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons salt
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Trim the root and stem end of the beets, and then wash them to dislodge any dirt. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and place on a baking tray. Cook the beets in the oven for 45 minutes, or until fork tender. Remove the beets from the oven and allow them to cool so you can handle them. Carefully rub the skin off the beets and then dice the beets into 1/2” cubes. Place the beets in a 1-1/2 quart clean, glass jar along with the onion and mint. Pour over the vinegar, water and salt, and cover. Place the in refrigerator overnight to a week before eating.