Roasted beets: Sweet bites the pickiest eater will love

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'roasted red beets' CC 2.0 by Stacy Spensley

‘roasted red beets’  CC 2.0 by Stacy Spensley

I remember going as a child with my mother to the Greek restaurant and watching with horror as she would happily order a salad stained hot pink with pickled beets. I’m not sure when, but at some point beets migrated from my list of foods to avoid at all cost to my list of favorite summer foods, and I still mourn the loss of my favorite Russian restaurant in town.

If you live in a house that’s friendly to Eastern European cuisine, your list of options for using beets only grows: there’s borscht, salat shuba, beet and potato salad. If you’re not as interested in combining beets with mayonnaise or sour cream, another surprising choice is to shred them and mix them into the batter of a chocolate cake. The beet’s strong, earthy flavors will overwhelm the cake while it’s hot out of the oven, but if you cool it in the fridge, the earthiness falls away and you’re left with about the moistest, most delicious cake you could ask for. (Plus, with all those vegetables in there, you can pretend it’s good for you!)

Back in early summer the first beets of the CSA season didn’t lend themselves to such ambitious projects. None of the first bunch I got were bigger around than the circle I can make by touching my thumb to my forefinger — and most were much smaller than that. Going to the work of making borscht doesn’t make much sense when you’re making half a serving of the stuff, and since I can’t really use a quarter of an egg, that rules the cake out, too. So what to do with these poor, anemic little beets?

The answer: roasting them and putting them into a beet green salad. This is an especially good option when you’re stuck with either very small beets or if, like me, you are the only one in your house who tolerates beets on their dinner plate.

When they’re tiny, young beets can be as sweet as candy when roasted till tender. Sometimes they’re only big enough for one bite apiece, but what a tasty bite! And as far as candy goes, it’s amazingly healthy stuff: between the taproot and the greens, beets are loaded up with iron, folic acid, Vitamin A and Vitamin C.

(Side note: If you have bigger beets, roasting is still an option; you may need to increase the time they spend in the oven, and it helps to halve or quarter the beets before roasting to help them cook faster. If you do use larger beets, you may want to substitute spinach or mixed greens in for the beet greens, as the greens of older beets become tougher and less tender. You don’t want to end up with a salad that’s a chore to grind your way through!)

Beet and Beet Green Salad with Cherry-Almond Balsamic Vinaigrette

Salad with roasted beets.

Serves 1

Ingredients:
Small bunch of beets (or 1-2 larger beets) and their greens
1/4 cup almonds, slivered
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons cherry-flavored balsamic vinegar (or other fruit flavor)
Crumbled blue cheese to taste

Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Trim the leaves and stems from the beetroot and scrub the skin of the root well to remove any lingering dirt. Wash the greens well (and make sure to remove any garden pests hiding on the bottom of the leaves) and set them aside.

Take out a piece of aluminum foil and place the beets inside, along with 1-2 ice cubes. Fold up the edges of the foil to create a sealed package, and put the beets in the oven. Small beets should take about 45 minutes to roast all the way through, but you can test them by sticking a fork into their center — it should slide in and out easily if the beet is fully cooked. Be careful when taking the package out of the oven: the melted water will have dissolved some of the beet juices, and this is likely to leave a maroon stain on any unfortunate clothing that gets in its way. Once they’re fully cooked, the beet skins should slide right off the beet, although with young beets the skin is so thin and tender that you also have the option to just leave it in place. Cut any larger beets into smaller pieces, too.

When there are just a few minutes left for the beets to cook, heat the olive oil in a small pan over medium low to medium heat. When the oil has warmed, add in the slivered almonds. Cook them, turning frequently to prevent burning, until they’re lightly browned. Remove the almonds from the pan with a slotted spoon and set them aside, leaving the oil in the pan. Pour the vinegar into the pan (I like cherry vinegar, but strawberry is also a good option — especially when strawberries are in season; you can add those to the salad as well). Whisk the dressing mix briskly until it’s well blended — if it cools and starts to separate before you’re ready to assemble your salad, just give it another good whisk.

Remove the stem from the greens and cut the greens into bite-size pieces. Put the greens on a plate, add the beets and toasted almonds, and top with as much blue cheese as you like. Finish by drizzling the almond-cherry vinaigrette over the whole thing, and voilà — you have a delicious, healthy salad!

Aimee Ogden

Aimee Ogden is a writer, mother of twins, and perpetually hungry foodie in Madison, Wisconsin.

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