Andreae Prozesky tames the savage beet.
It’s been a while since I went on about my love of beets, hasn’t it? Oh friendly beet, you sweet, red heart of loveliness, with your delicious wine-veined leaves and burgundy-bleeding stems! How I love thee! How I am going cracked at farmers’ market and grocery store alike, eager to eat as many of you as I can while you’re still sugary and fresh from the ground! Oh, bounty!
Yes, they taste like dirt, but in a good way.
In beets you can taste all the fine, mineral subtlety of the soil. There’s nothing to remind you that food actually comes from the earth like a dish of beets. Makes one feel more connected, I think, and that’s important. Beets grow so beautifully in Newfoundland, it seems wrong to overlook them.
A couple autumns back I wrote about the chocolate beet cake I made, and that’s still a favourite recipe. In fact, I might make one this very afternoon.
I eat beets raw and shredded into a salad. They go especially harmoniously with fall friends like carrots and apples. In fact, throw those on top of some leafy spinach and whip up a little poppyseed vinaigrette and you’re good to go.
Roasting brings out the magic in beets. Sometimes I roast small ones whole, wrapped in foil in a 350F oven for 40 minutes to an hour, until easily pierced through with a fork. Then I slice them up, throw them onto some salad greens with some goat cheese, add some toasted walnuts or pine nuts and fling a bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper over the top and dig in. You could fancy this up in different ways—you could, for example, chop the nuts, coat a disk of goat cheese in them and then toast that in the oven, then carefully remove it and place it atop the greens, then arrange quarters of roast beet around it, if you were having someone special over for dinner. It occurs to me that some raisins would go nicely with the whole mélange. Beets may have their earthy, peasant side, but they clean up good, too.
Buying beets with the tops on means that you get two vegetables at once. Three, really, because the stems can also be chopped up and used in some recipes to give a celery-like crunch—but with a little more depth and a lot more colour. If I don’t think I’ll use up my stalks and stems right away, I wash and chop the leaves and steam them for about a minute, then plunge them into some ice-cold water to stop them cooking too much, then I drain them, squeeze the extra water out, and stick them in a bag in the freezer. I chop the stems and stick them in a freezer bag, too, so both are available for soup- or casserole-makery throughout the winter. They’re sturdy, so they stand up well to being frozen. If you want to use them fresh, though, you can do anything with them that you would do with Swiss chard. Beet tops, steamed, with a big knob of butter melting into them and a good shake of sea salt on top are just gorgeous, or if butter’s not your thing you can still steam them and dress them up the way you would dress a salad, with a drizzle of oil and a shake of vinegar.
My favourite, most deeply warm-upping beet recipe, however, is a nice beet soup. Not borscht in the dark, beefy, brothy sense—although that’s good, too—but a bright, cheerful, colour-therapy kind of soup, with quarter-rounds of fall veggies and beans piled atop one another in the beautiful pink stock surrounding them. A dollop of yogurt or sour cream on top means that you can stir a little opacity into the otherwise jewel-clear broth, turning it a cartoon magenta in the face of which nobody can possibly maintain a bad mood. I’ve been making this soup for years, combining a few different recipes with the memory of a meal eaten at a little Polish grocery and restaurant in Montreal with my friend Anna, where we ate so much we were positively carb-drunk on the way home, and laughed so hard that we surely troubled all who passed us. Whenever I slice up a nice, fat beet, I think of that evening. I don’t think my soup is anything like the one we ate, but the spirit is the same, and the beets are every bit as good.
Beet vegetable soup
I don’t usually peel any of the vegetables. The peel helps hold the quarter-round slices together. This is purely an aesthetic preference on my part, though, and you may cut your veggies any way you like. Serves 4-6
3 tablespoons butter (substitute oil if you like, but butter adds a beautiful silky depth that oil just can’t)
1/2 onion, sliced in quarter-rounds
2 carrots, sliced as above
1 new potato, the size of a large fist, sliced as above
1 fist-sized beet, sliced as above
1/2 cup chopped beet stems (or chard stems if you can’t find beets with tops)
1 1/2 cups tinned tomatoes, crushed
1 cup cooked (or tinned) white kidney beans, rinsed
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock (more if you like your soup brothier)
1 cup chopped beet leaves (or chard)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper to taste
yogurt or sour cream to serve
In a soup pot, melt butter on medium-low. Cook onions in butter until transparent, about ten minutes. Add carrots, potato, beet and beet stems and sauté about 5 minutes, until beginning to soften. Add tomatoes and beans and stir through. Add stock and cover. Raise heat to high, bring to a boil, and turn back down to low. Simmer until veggies are almost cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Add beet leaves and cook another 10 minutes. Add vinegar, honey, salt and pepper and serve, topped with yogurt or sour cream, with good bread or biscuits.
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