Field to Feast: Eat Your Beets

Good advice, I’d say, but it does reinforce the air of obligation beets already have about them; we’re admonished to eat them because they’re good for you, rarely because they’re delicious. Despite that crushing sense of duty, flavor is a great reason to chow down on beets, and now that local crops are veering toward root vegetables, there couldn’t be a more perfect time to sample them.

I think a lot of people have negative associations with beets after some childhood dining trauma, but they weren’t on my radar when I was young. In fact, I’m pretty sure I never tasted a beet until they started popping up in salads with goat cheese and frisée sometime in the ’90s. But that only takes care of the root — what about the greens, which also deserve a chance to shine? When Gil and I first moved in together (long before the dogs came to live with us), I exercised on the treadmill pretty regularly. Most of that treadmill time was spent watching Lidia Bastianich’s show where I learned, well, all sorts of things, one of which was that preparing beet greens is pretty simple. Her roasted beet salad stuck with me through the years and it’s always on the menu when I come home with some beautiful beets from the market.

Roasted Beet Salad | Minimally Invasive

I used golden beets this time instead of the deeper red ones because those were already spoken for. If you hate worrying about stained hands from preparing beets, you can wear gloves or just buy these golden beauties. They’re not quite as earthy as their darker cousins, but I love them just the same.

Veselka Borscht | Minimally Invasive

Of course, I can’t let a post about beets go by without pushing borscht on you. But this wasn’t just any borscht! No, I broke out my Veselka Cookbook and got to work on the lengthy process of cooking their most famous dish. Making it involved cooking three stocks — beef, pork and beet — along with much straining and simmering and work. So Much Work! The end product was satisfying and rich with a depth of flavor my regular borscht doesn’t have, but was it worth the extra five hours and four pots to make? For me at least, the answer is no because I can make it to the restaurant any time I want. But I did love their suggestion to use the strained beets from the stock in a salad composed of nothing more than beets, prepared horseradish and salt. I was skeptical, but found the combination addictive and kept nibbling away at tiny portions until I’d consumed an entire meal’s worth.

Veselka Borscht | Minimally Invasive

I somehow managed not to stain my newly white walls with any drips from the process of cooking, which we all should consider a miracle. All in all, it was a very successful beet week!

Update: I’m starting a new feature over at Amy Roth Photo called (provisionally, anyway) How I Got the Shot. I’m discussing the opening shot of this post for my very first entry. Take a look and let me know what you think! 

B is for borscht

091018_borscht_med

Also for beets…

091017_beets3_sm

One spring weekend, I had a craving for Veselka‘s Christmas borscht and started a furious search for an online recipe. The only mentions I found praised it to the heavens, but had no recipes attached. I did, however, find an approximate recreation of their everyday borscht, which I finally got around to making this afternoon. So, so, so good. This is going into heavy rotation this winter.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “B is for borscht”

The beet and the coconut

It’s not unusual to plan a meal around one ingredient, I think. You find a beautiful cut of grass-fed beef or see a flat of ruby red strawberries and the wheels start spinning as you think about the best way to highlight their natural beauty. This sort of thinking influenced a couple of our meals this week.

Usually when I buy beets, both root and green are destined for a salad inspired by an episode of Lidia’s Family Table — roasted beets, boiled greens, and sliced green apple are tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, topped with hard goat cheese, and seasoned only with salt & pepper. It’s simple and delicious, especially when the produce is at its freshest and most vibrant.

But wanting something different last weekend and thinking (incorrectly) I was prepared to deal with a certain amount of frustration, I decided on a beet tart adapted from this one. The process involved me buying my first tart pan from a store that fascinates and repels me in equal measure — New York Cake & Baking Distribution, conveniently located across the street from my office. I’m attracted to its bare bones design and singularity of purpose; this isn’t a place you go for a comfortable shopping experience with easily navigable aisles or readily located merchandise. No, you go here for baking supplies (pretty much anything at all) at a good price. Period. I’m repelled only because I’m woefully ignorant about baking and expect to be given the bum’s rush when I walk in. Insecure much?

And, you know, there’s a reason for my insecurity — I’ve never once made a pie crust that hasn’t frustrated me to the point of tears. Part of the problem is a lack of counter space, but mostly it’s simple inexperience. Is the dough too dry? Is it too wet? I DON’T KNOW! I think the problem you see above was a too-dry crust, but couldn’t say. My quick fix was to jam bits of dough into the areas where it broke apart, figuring the filling would hide my mistakes from sight, if not taste.

But what a filling it was! While the beets were roasting, I threw in a whole head of garlic, too, which I later sautéed with a chopped onion and copious amounts of thyme. Just meditate on that for a minute.

And then I topped that layer with an egg, crème fraiche, and goat cheese cheese mixture before the roasted beets and even more cheese found their way to the tippy top of the tart.

It was a lot of work, I won’t lie, and I don’t really know if I’ll be preparing the crust again since I’m such a numskull with the pastry-making, but that filling definitely will be featured again in future meals, the layers alone or in some combination. For you see, it was DELICIOUS.

OK, it looks a little pizza-like, but warm from the oven with the sweet caramelized onions, garlic and beets sandwiching that creamy filling, mmmm…

We polished off about half of the tart on the spot, calling it dinner, and put the other half away for quick lunches later in the week.

The other (and probably the more surprising) ingredient I planned a meal around was … coconut juice. I picked it up on a whim at the grocery one day and couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it, so it languished in the pantry for a few weeks. Then I thought — hey, Thai! So I broke out my new rice cooker and set about making coconut rice with brown basmati and a mixture of coconut milk and strained coconut juice. I was on a roll!

To top the rice, I defrosted about a cup of sofrito from my stash, thinking the cilantro and culantro would be right at home with the coconut, and made a thick stew with the addition of lime-marinated shrimp, shrimp stock, hot pepper paste, and the rest of the coconut milk/juice. I topped it all with thinly sliced green onions and toasted sweetened coconut to balance the tartness from the lime and have to say I was pretty pleased with the outcome:

But I think it could’ve used more heat and possibly a little funky fish sauce to bring the whole thing together. I’ll try that variation next time and report back to you.

And it doesn’t have anything to do with this post, really, but because ’tis the season, I have to show you what I did with my garlic scapes last weekend instead of grilling them.

I made a chickpea dip inspired by Mark Bittman’s white bean dip with lemon zest. I could eat this everyday. I just whirled together some canned chickpeas (drained of squack), the zest of one lemon, the juice of the same, quite a few chopped garlic scapes and harissa. While the machine was running, I drizzled in some good-quality olive oil until the mixture turned creamy; I topped it with more lemon juice, olive oil, and another sprinkling of harissa before we dove in. Yum.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “The beet and the coconut”