Sunday, November 20, 2011

Root to leaf.

Stuffed beets with greens. © Ryan Schierling
Ryan didn't grow up eating beets quite the way I did. What he remembers was more of the canned or pickled variety, which (unsurprisingly) didn't put beets on his "must have more of this" list. Although I'm not sure he'll ever recover entirely from this early aversion, it has been my great pleasure to share my appreciation of beets with him. So far, as long as I'm not asking him to eat a whole, roasted beet plain and keeping some goat cheese on hand, he's very much enjoying them.

We grew beets in our garden when I was little, and I loved them. There were a great many things from that garden that were canned or frozen every year in our home, but I don't remember beets being among them. It's a pretty good bet that it was limited, primarily-seasonal fair, which may have added to my attraction, as it was a pretty special deal to get beets and greens for dinner.

I was a picky enough eater as a kid. I hated fresh tomatoes (yes, even those sweet, perfect ones straight from the garden), fresh mushrooms, and green beens (unless they were either raw or canned French cut – go figure). But a few of the common culprits kids get picky about were on my favorites list. I loved broccoli, cauliflower and – to my mother's great astonishment – even brussel sprouts. Thanks to my parents' big garden and the mysteries of taste bud genetics, I enjoyed a lot of pretty delicious things straight from the earth as a child, beets among them. Beets were also my first introduction to cooked greens, and beet tops remain my favorite green to this day.

My mom was blessedly straightforward with the beet preparation. She usually cooked/steamed the beets on the stovetop with a little water. Or maybe she roasted them. I only remember them being deeply purple, tender and sweet. She never missed an opportunity to use the greens, either. She would simmer up those tops, add a little salt and finish them with a good squeeze of lemon juice (or more likely in those days, ReaLemon®). They were delicious eaten with the beets.

And so, the inspiration for these stuffed beets – using the whole beet. Simple flavors with pairs of compliments: goat cheese for the beets, lemon for the greens. Together, an earthy, sweet and tangy kind of pleasure. We prefer more vs. less goat cheese because it is just so delicious with the sweetness of the beets, but the truth is that you could omit it entirely and still have a very delicious beet.

Large beets are a side dish so fantastic that they could very well steal the show from your entree. Small beets make a perfect 'knife and fork' appetizer and the tiniest are a single, simple amuse bouche.

Greens of beets – red and golden. © Ryan Schierling



Beet Green and Goat Cheese Stuffed Beets

Beets (any variety) with healthy tops/greens
Goat cheese
Garlic, finely chopped
Salt
Black pepper
Fresh lemon wedges

Cut tops off of beets leaving about an inch of stems above beet. Set aside greens. Rinse beets, gently scrub off any dirt and pat dry. Rub the beets generously with olive oil and roast/steam them in the oven in an aluminum foil packet at 375º F for about 45-60 minutes, depending upon the size of your beets. When a sharp knife tip easily penetrates the beet, it is done. (Tip: be sure to put a sheet pan with sides under the packets in case of any leaks.)

Now, you may turn your attention to the greens. Rinse well and blanch them for 30 seconds in a pot of salted boiling water. Drain the greens briefly and plunge them into an ice-water bath to stop the cooking process, and to help retain their bright green color. Once cool, squeeze as much of the excess water out of them as you can, then chop them well. Using a fork, fluff the greens together with a little bit of freshly-chopped garlic and a good pinch of salt in a mixing bowl.

When the beets are done roasting and cool enough to handle, cut off the tops and slip off the skins. Cut a little off the bottom of the beet, to give it a bit of a flat place to sit. Use a melon baller to scoop out the center of each beet. Place on a foil-lined sheet pan.

Fill each beet with a hearty spoonful of goat cheese, leaving some room at the top for the chopped greens mixture. Distribute the greens evenly among all the beets, spooning on top of the goat cheese. 

Return to 350º F oven for about 15 minutes to heat through.

Move to serving platter, offer it a few cracks of ground black pepper and give each stuffed beet a very generous squeeze of lemon juice over the top.

We recommend utensils... but, if you're so tempted, the smaller of these little babies are a treat to pick up with your fingers and pop in your mouth. 

4 comments:

  1. Julie, I don't remember your garden when we were growing up in the Palouse. Probably because we were inside playing games on your brother's computer and listening to Allan Sherman.

    Have to say, pickled beets are an acquired taste, but one that's pretty awesome. Couple them with some pickled eggs, and you have the perfect snacky treat.

    Stuffed beets I never have tried, but they look delicious. And they're suddenly on the to-eat list.

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  2. Jonathan, I don't mind pickled beets, but they are definitely a stretch from representing beets – the sweetness of a roasted one, to be more precise – for someone new to them. Will definitely have to try them with the pickled eggs.

    Our garden was part of the big central community garden and we never played down there. Yours, on the other hand was on the way to the ball field.

    And about that Allan Sherman... my mother quietly "disappeared" that album. One too many Hello Muddah, Hello Faddahs coming from the basement – I always imagine that it came to an end with a cathartic crack over her knee. :)

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  3. That's weird. I still don't remember the community garden. Probably wasn't close enough to the crick, or I'd remember it.

    Heh - I was there for a lot of those Hello Muddah, Hello Faddahs in the basement. Not surprising that album mysteriously vanished.

    And on the topic of beets, if you've ever read that PNW treasure known as Tom Robbins, you'll obviously have a great appreciation of the red-blooded beet. From Jitterbug Perfume:

    “The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

    Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.

    The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip...

    The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.

    The beet was Rasputin's favorite vegetable. You could see it in his eyes.”

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  4. "The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot."

    Love it.

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