Vegetable recipes that are tough to beet!Tuesday, December 4
You have probably heard me say before that anyone can grill a steak or cook a chicken breast.
Well, almost anyone. It’s true though. The skills of a chef are truly tested when they are faced with the less than desirable cuts. Short ribs, veal cheeks, beef tongue and the likes, are all a test of a skilled chef’s abilities.
Well, the same can be said when it comes to vegetables. When vegetables are harvested and served at their peak of freshness, little is needed to elevate their ripe flavour.
As we make our way further into the depths of winter it becomes increasingly more difficult to hang on to those precious flavours. We try to cling to those memories by canning, pickling and preserving, everything we can, but it’s not quite the same. Thankfully there are a precious group of vegetables that can survive through the harsh Edmonton winter. Root vegetables, if cellared properly, can hang on right through until the springtime, offering us a reminder of the summer that was.
One such root vegetable has earned a special place in my heart in recent years, and that’s the beet.
It wasn’t until recently that I discovered their depth of flavour and versatility in the kitchen. In the past few years we have boiled them, pickled them, roasted them, candied them, made them into borscht, fried them into beet chips, juiced them to prepare beet risotto, even dried the pulp to create beet powder. It seems like every time we pick up a beet we are finding a new way to reinvent the ingredient and present it in a new light.
Most people associate beets with the purple variety, often pickled or boiled for family dinner, but the truth is they come in a virtually endless assortment of colour and flavours. These are referred to as heirloom beets. Most people don’t realize that many years ago beets were found in several colours, shapes and sizes. Over time we have weeded out the varieties that were deemed less desirable or those that were less suited for mass cultivation.
These less desirable varieties were left behind as a result of the industrialization of modern way farming, leaving many of us to assume that beets are purple in colour and round in shape. The same fate was true of many vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, potatoes and many more. Thankfully we have seen a resurgence of these lesser-known varieties in the last decade, thanks to a return to more traditional growing practices by an ever increasingly growing population of the farming community. Take a stroll down the aisles of your neighbourhood farmer’s market and you will see what I mean.
So with that in mind I decided to put together a composed salad this week, showcasing the beet in three ways, and pairing it with a compliment of flavours. This salad is a little on the artsy chef side, maybe a little more so than I usually like to do for my column, but don’t let that intimidate you. Try one, a couple, or all of these recipes for yourself this week and don’t be too concerned about the presentation. If your salad looks like mine, great, but if it doesn’t, I’m sure it will taste just as good.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Requires: 5 half litre mason jars
5 lbs. baby beets (head to the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market and visit Peas on Earth, they still have gold and candy cane beets!)
2 cups white sugar
1 litre white vinegar
1 Tbsp. pickling salt
20 whole cloves
2 Tbsp. mustard seed
2 tsp. coriander
Place beets in a medium pot, cover with water, bring to a simmer and cook until tender, about 15 minutes, if using a variety of beets boil separately and jar separately to preserve the colors
Drain, reserving 2 cups of the beet water, cool and peel
Sterilize the mason jars and lids by immersing in a pot of boiling water for at least 10 minutes
Remove the jars from the water, then divide the beets up evenly amongst the jars
Carefully divide the cloves amongst the jars
In a pot combine the sugar, beet water, vinegar and pickling salt, bring to a boil
Pour the hot brine over the beets in the jars and seal the lids
Place a rack in the bottom of a large pot and fill halfway with water
Using a jar holder carefully lower the jar into the water, if necessary pour more water in to ensure the jars are immersed completely
Bring the pot to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes
Remove, set aside and store in a cool place
These will take as little as two weeks or up to two months to fully pickle, depending on how large your beets are. For the sake of the salad, if you are in a rush you can use some beets you have already pickled, or if you have to, pick up some pickled beets, I won’t tell!
Roasted Beets with Maple-Bourbon Butter
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
2 lbs. beets (again, head to the farmer’s market)
4 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. bourbon
Salt and pepper to taste
I like to boil my beets to peel them and to soften them up slightly before I roast them. Never peel your beets before they go into the water because you will lose all of that good colour
Place the beets in a medium pot and cover with water, bring to a simmer and cook the beets until fork tender, but not soft, 12-15 minutes
Immediately remove the beets from the water and place in an ice bath to cool
Once cool, gently peel the beets, this can be done by hand or with a paring knife, but the skin just about slide right off
You can do this prior to serving the salad and then simply finish the beets when you are ready for them, it really speeds up the cooking time at dinner
Preheat the oven to 400F
Line a small roasting pan with parchment paper
Place the beets on the pan, seasoning them generously, leaving some room between each of them, place in the oven for 10 minutes
Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, melt the butter, add the bourbon carefully, as it may flame, then add the maple syrup
Bring to a simmer
Remove the beets from the oven and using a pastry brush, glaze the beets generously, return the beets to the oven another 2-3 minutes
Repeat this process 2-3 times to nicely coat the beets evenly
Remove the beets from the oven and serve
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 10-15 minutes
Special tools: mandolin or V-slicer, deep fryer with temperature control, or deep fryer thermometer
4 large beets (again, try some different varieties to really showcase the diversity and color)
10 cups vegetable oil
Sea salt to taste
Either in a pot or in your deep fryer, heat your oil up to 350F
Always use extreme caution when cooking with a pot of oil, never fill the pot over half full and never over crowd the pot with too much at once. Most importantly, do not add water or any volume of liquids to hot oil as it will boil over*
Don’t peel the beets, rather, using a paring knife, cut the bottom off the beet to allow you to start with evenly round chips
Using a mandolin, thinly slice the beets into round coins, go as thin as you can, while maintaining the integrity of the coins, about 1/8” thick
Line a pan or bowl with paper towel
Once the oil is hot place the chips into the oil a few dozen pieces at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pot, as this will cause your chips to cook unevenly
Stir the chips as they cook with a slotted spoon or a mesh sieve to prevent them from sticking together
Once most of the bubbling has subsided scoop out the chips and shake off excess fat, then place on paper towel to absorb remainder of excess fat, season quickly
Repeat until all of the chips are cooked
These can be enjoyed to compliment the salad or as a tasty snack on their own. For the really health conscience they can also be baked
Maple Dijon Vinaigrette
6 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 Tbsp. minced shallots
1 egg yolk
6 Tbsp. maple syrup
4 Tbsp. grainy Dijon
1 cup canola oil
Combine all ingredients but the canola oil
While whisking vigorously, slowly incorporate the canola oil to create an emulsion
Season and set aside
This dressing can be kept refrigerated for up to one week
To complete the salad you’ll need the following:
¼ cupgoat cheese
12-15 slices Sgambaro’s smoked salmon (pick this local favourite up at the Italian Centre or at the farmer’s market, there is no better smoked salmon, ANYWHERE!)
Thinly slice the pickled beets into coins and lay on the bottom the plate, lightly season
Toss the arugula with the dressing, lay on the plate
Finish the plate with the roasted beets, crumbled goat cheese, pistachios, smoked salmon, and top with some beet chips
As I said, enjoy this tasty display of beets together or on their own. Either way, you’re in for a real treat! The contrast of tart pickled beets and sweet roasted beets, and the creaminessof the goat cheese against the saltiness crunch of the beet chips is something special.