beets

Grilled beets

It’s true. You can grill beets. Let me take that a step further: you should grill beets.

I learned this from my dashing husband’s college roommate. He’s a gregarious fellow who likes to eat. He likes to come to our house because I cook. I cook real food and plenty of it. He’s great to cook for simply because he’s so appreciative. A dinner of roast chicken, garlic buttermilk mashed potatoes, and a salad once elicited a wonder-filled “do you eat like this every night?!?!” from him.

During one visit to California from the chilly East a few years ago he was so excited about being here and about me cooking that he wanted to get involved in the kitchen. I had a meal planned. I am used to being the boss of our kitchen. I say “our kitchen” because I am a generous person. The kitchen at this house is mine. My kitchen.

My kitchen isn’t big. Two – even three – people can work in it (and four have done so), but those people need to be fairly aware of those around them. There has to be some communication at work. I say this with love, but this particular house guest, while a great talker and fun conversationalist, isn’t the best communicator I’ve ever met. He isn’t, in short, the very best of listeners. That made me wary about letting him help with the meal; it also made him fail to heed my initial reluctance.

Had our lend-a-hand visitor been my friend originally instead of one I inherited from my dashing husband, I might have said, “hey, let me do my thing” or forced a specific task upon him. He was *so* enthusiastic and his desire to soak up my cookin’ mojo was *so* palpable that I dug deep and found a morsel of generosity and empathy and let him peel and slice some beets and put them on the grill.

It was not what I had planned for the beets. But again, he was just *so* very extremely beyond belief excited, I felt like too much of a killjoy to stop him. Whatever, I thought, let him burn, undercook, and generally ruin the beets. Who cares.

Yes, that was my idea of generosity.

He didn’t burn them. He didn’t under cook them. He didn’t ruin them in any way. The grilled beet slices were tender on the inside, caramelized on the outside, with a nice bit of bitter char that off-set their sweetness beautifully.

Grilled beet salad

Peel beets and slice them about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Brush them with oil and place them on a medium to medium hot grill. Cover the grill (especially if it’s a gas one), flip the slices after the beets get grill marks, 8 to 10 minutes. Continue cooking on the other side until the beets are tender and grill-marked on the other side. Put abut a beet’s worth of slices on a salad plate (or put all the slices on a family-style platter), dollop some soft, creamy cheese here and there (I used ricotta here, because that’s what was in the fridge, but a creamy chèvre would have been delightful). Some toasted walnuts or thinly sliced shallots wouldn’t have been out of place, if you wanted to add them. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, toasted walnut oil, or pine nut oil. Sprinkle with salt.

beets
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Beets and their greens

A month ago I was whining on Facebook about not knowing what new to do with beets. I got some ideas from well-meaning folks, but in the end I think I just needed a little beet-break. Having had just such a hiatus, the rich earthy sweetness of red beets called to me anew. The dull dirt-red ords and their dramatic red-slashed greens stood out at the market, begging to be eaten. So I grabbed a bunch and did something I’d been thinking about for awhile: I cooked them together. Starting with the beets, then adding the stems, and finally the dark leafy greens that I cooked just long enough to wilt.

The resulting warm beet salad, as I’ve decided to call it, was a big hit at my house last night. We just grated a bit of meyer lemon zest on top and called it a day, but some hazelnuts or a bit of goat cheese – globs of fresh chevre or gratings of an aged version – would be a lovely addition if you’re feeling fancy.

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Watermelon salad & seedy potatoes

watermelon saladdinner716.jpg

We had a very odd dinner last night. Not bad, just odd. We started with a watermelon feta cheese salad–my dashing husband really dug the minced red onion on it. We agreed similarly minced chile would be even more outstanding. I read on these internets that some people put balsamic vinegar on this combination. I am not a fan. But you know what might be fun? If you really and truly seeded the watermelon completely first? Black sesame seeds. Get it? Too cute? Tell me the truth; I can take it.

Then we tucked into some sautéed corn, potatoes cooked with a whole mess o’ seeds (cumin, fennel, fenugreek, mustard–oh my!), and beet yogurt salad. I did not take time and reflect on the menu, so I did not notice until the cooking had started that the corn and potatoes were being prepared in such a very similar fashion. Oh well. They didn’t taste the same at all.

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Borscht!

beetborscht.jpgBorscht, which I’m told just means “stew” in Russian (correct me! please!), in its beet-centric variety is one of my favorite soups. I like it thick with cabbage and beans (and meat even) as we had it last night as those pesky spring winds whipped up and sent us all shivering into our poorly insulated San Francisco houses. I like it thin and plain and chilled. I like it with tiny mushroom dumplings in it. I like it with a sprinkle of fresh dill. I like that it’s a brilliant, scary color. I like that I had a quart of it sitting, waiting in the deep-freeze for an evening when I had cooked through the CSA box earlier in the week than usual, no one wanted to go to the store, and no one much cared what we ate.

Except Ernie. He and I have a lot in common (half our genetic material, for example). What we do not share is a love of borscht. He tried it. He tried several bites. He made the same face he makes every time he tries it: let’s call it displeased. He ate some cereal instead. And strawberries. He doesn’t get a substitute dinner very often for two reasons: one, he’s a decent eater who doesn’t ask for one; two, it’s been drummed into his head that “I am not a short-order cook.”

Am I asking too much of him when I serve up a big, steaming bowl of fuchsia root vegetables?

Ernie eats
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Cleaning lettuce: it’s something to do

Strange, cleaning-out-the-fridge dinner last night. I had a shockingly large portion of beet greens and yogurt. Okay, I’ll admit it, I ate all of it. The whole recipe. My dashing husband enjoyed an extra-large “health salad”–I used to make fun of this name he had for tomato, onion, sometimes cucumber and sometimes with greens/sometimes without concoction. Then we were in New York at some deli and there it was: health salad. So designated in the case. Last night he threw some roasted beet in it because, well, we found ourselves awash in roasted beets.

ecleanssalad.jpgErnie wanted to help, so I put him to work re-washing the lettuce. Why not? Sure, we end up picking a fair number of lettuce leaves off the floor. But those greens get clean. And dry! He spins them within an inch of their lives.

Plus, while he’s busy cleaning salad he’s much less likely to ask reflexively and obsessively and annoyingly “Is dinner ready?”

See how to clean your own greens like a pro here.

Ernie cooks
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Look familiar?

beet chipsSomeone got creative with the oil, that’s all I can say. Week after week of beets. I’ve roasted them, boiled them, souped them, saladed them. I’ve even grilled them (yes, it works quite nicely). So now I’ve fried them. As chips. Guess what? They were a big hit. Ernie snarfed down a ton and my dashing husband joined him.

And anyone who has deep-fat fried can tell you: once you have the oil going, you might as well keep frying. So the sweet potatoes–sitting so innocently, thinking they were going to be turned into a spicy gratin–were next. Cut into fries and fried. Delicious. Not as crispy as potato french fries, but really good. A bit of chile “lava salt” we got in Kauai was just the ticket to sprinkle on them.
sweet potato fries
You would think that after five days in New Orleans, I’d want a break from the fried.* And I thought I did. I do. So dinner began in earnest with this gloriously simple but labor-consuming fava bean and pecorino salad. Shell a shit-load of fava beans. Blanch them. Shell them again (seems like torture, I know). Toss with a bit of delicious olive oil and top with tiny cubes of fresh pecorino cheese and a sprinkle of salt. This is a dish best made if you have staff. Staff to do all the shelling and blanching and re-shelling. Today I had that staff in the shape of my lovely intern.
fava pecorino salad
Isn’t it just lovely? Stay tuned next week when we develop a whole slew of fava bean recipes.

egg on greens
The main thrust of the meal was some simple grilled asparagus (brush with oil, grill until charred and tender–about 10 minutes total (covered) and some braised greens with a poached egg on top. Yes, you caught me, that’s a total fall-back meal for me. We all eat it, we all like it, my dashing husband can customize it with hot sauce. I highly recommend it.

* To be honest, I’ve been a bit obsessed with some sweet potato fries I saw at Parkway Bakery and Tavern while I was eating a giant po’ boy–a dining companion saw them too and made a bee line for the counter to order some for us. Alas, the line was long by then, and he gave up. It was for the best, but I’ve been thinking about them ever since.

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I’m trying to pack….

Remember the nice lady who brought me frozen ravioli? Well, she also dropped off some “meat sauce” that has been sitting in my freezer ever since. Tonight was its night to shine! I’m trying to pack to go to New Orleans (For business! Work! It will be all work, I swear!) and Ernie is busy with my dashing husband trying to assemble an awesome Lego construction crane his aunt and uncle sent him for his birthday. We have things to do, so we’ll eat frozen spaghetti sauce. It was okay. A bit acidic. Not as good as my homemade sauce. But that does seem a ridiculous standard. The proof was in the giant second serving I inhaled.
spaghetti

What Mom? Yes, yes we had vegetables. We had a salad buffet of leftover beet yogurt salad, radishes with butter (sound odd? talk to the French, they luv ‘e,m), fiddlehead ferns (long story, tell you later), radish salad, and greens with toasted cumin and yogurt. (What can I say? My intern was here today and I need to give her something to do.)

“salads”

That’s right. It was a weird-ass dinner. Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone!

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Not bad, not embarrassing, just weird (and delicious)

beet yogurt salad

Beet and yogurt salad. My dashing husband thought the color akin to acrylic paint. It seemed, in fact, that one could palate-knife up quite a creation if it weren’t so damned addictive taste-wise. So, instead of finger-painting or re-doing the dining room walls, we ate it. A lot of it.

Note to self: In the morning, remember you ate beets last night. No need to panic. No need to call the doctor. No need, even, to drink lots of cranberry juice. You’re not dying. You don’t have a bladder infection. You just ate a lot of beets. A lot.

We also filled up on some stir-fried asparagus and spinach rice pilaf.

asparagus black bean stirfryspinach rice pilaf

A green salad was thrown in for good measure because, frankly, we are over-supplied with salad greens.

See what I mean? That’s a weird dinner, right? The kind that results from a lot of recipe-testing that day (we could have also had an asparagus salad, borscht, and a beet and blood orange salad). It’s the kind of dinner I try to explain to people who think we must eat like gods everyday. The food is good, yes, but it’s not always a dream meal, you know?

At least it was vegetable-heavy. If we ate like this everyday we’d never die. Except for the rice. It should have been brown.

aspargus
beets
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rice

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