These days, the vegetables on our plate become fairly routine: carrots, turnips, rutabaga, celeriac, and beets. All workhorses of the root cellar, these hearty roots will sustain us until spring. Even as the outside temperatures start to warm, and the cellar creeps up to forty degrees, my winter vegetables still have many culinary virtues waiting to be discovered.
Beets, however, are an embarrassing vegetable. Add them to any dish, and they stain all the ingredients red. Cut them, peel them, chop them and your hands become a mess. When working with beets in the kitchen, it’s easy to visualize how in colonial New England households, beets were used to tint frosting and dye clothing.
Our family has a love-hate relationship with beets. My daughter Emily loves beets, and most mornings enjoys a super-red smoothie prepared with frozen strawberries and cooked beets. My husband detests beets. I try grating them for salads, or sneaking them into soups. For him, the only way to eat beets is when combined with chocolate, as in cake.
As a child, I recall eating “Harvard Beets”; cooked beets in a thickened, sweet and sour sauce. Perhaps named for the bright red crimson of the Harvard school football jersey, this dish, quite popular with the senior set, is delicious either hot or cold.
In the recipe for Mediterranean Beet Salad, cooked and cubed beets are tossed with scallions (or steamed leeks), olives, parsley and cheese. The herb-infused dressing is a good foil for the sweetness of the beets, and the olives and cheese provide just the right amount of salt.
Creative additions would be toasted seeds or nuts, grated carrots or chopped celery. If pink salads are not your family’s favorite, just assemble right before serving.