Beet Awakening

A pink risotto opened a whole new culinary field. • Photographs by Doug Young

I love the sweet, earthy flavor of beets; others loathe it. I used to be a beet basher after years of being forced to eat canned slimy discs. The best part of which was how the slippery circles jetted around the plate like luminescent flying saucers. This was considered an innovative solution for a quick vitamin-packed side dish? Sheesh! I envy those whose first taste of this colorful root vegetable was a freshly dug Long Island beet; they had a chance. But I was scarred and steered clear for years.

I’ve made up for it. The farmers markets in New York City and Long Island were my visual gateway: stacks of eye-catching colors like golden orange, blood red, purple, candy striped, yellow orange and red cream, even white. The gateway dish—by chef Kyle Koenig of the Topping Rose House—was beet risotto topped with raw Chioggia beet chips and a crumble of Catapano Dairy Farm goat cheese. The beets came right from the Topping Rose farm.

“Beets are great juiced, reduced for risotto, to make cocktails, roasted and then pickled, even as the liquid to make pasta dough,” says Koenig. “Recently, I have been using red or purple beets to cure fluke, which gives it an amazing color.”

I had to make up for lost time. I bought my first bundle of organic rainbow beets at the Westhampton Beach Farmers Market from Sang Lee Farms, a certified organic farm on the North Fork, which has been growing beets since 2006. I learned beet greens (leaves) are edible after I asked to have them chopped off. The woman behind the stand gasped, “They are good to eat!”

Before I tackled the root of the matter, I made a basic meal in minutes of beet greens sautéed with garlic and olive oil and topped with a fried egg. The leaves resemble in taste and texture Swiss chard, a close relative of the beetroot belonging to the Beta vulgaris species. Now, how to cook the beets?

I love roasted root vegetables. Who doesn’t? Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of any vegetable. Grilling achieves the same with a smoky addition. Have a raw tooth? Beets can be eaten straight up.

I love roasted root vegetables. Who doesn’t? Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of any vegetable. Grilling achieves the same with a smoky addition. Have a raw tooth? Beets can be eaten straight up. The Chioggia beet, also known as the candy cane or candy-stripe beet, is most notable for its striking deep pink and white spirals. When cooked, the stripes fade.

I thought back to a potluck dinner I hosted for the summer solstice. The most memorable dish was “spaghetti” zucchini made with a Spiralizer, the kitchen gadget that makes noodles and ribbons out of fruits and vegetables. Inspired, I bought a spiral cutter and was ready to twirl my way to a raw beet salad. Peeling the beets was the first challenge. The stain factor was enough to have me running from bloody murder, but half a lemon is your weapon: Squeeze the juice over your hands, then roll the lemon between your palms tightly; rinse hands under water, “Voilà!” Not interested in a beet bath? Wear plastic gloves, an apron and have some towels handy. The shoestring blade was my choice. I spiraled my way to long beautiful golden and Chioggia beet strands that begged for something acidic. I dressed the “noodles” with a lemon Dijon vinaigrette, topped them with crumbled goat cheese and pistachios and plated it on a bed of beet greens—a festive salad perfect for a summer soirée.

If you are on the fence about beets give ’em a chance and put your beet basher days back in the can.

COOK For Kyle Koenig’s recipe for his beet salad, and Laura’s recipes for spiralized raw beet salad, click here.

 

Newsletter

Categories

Cook and artist Laura Luciano writes the blog outeastfoodie.com.