When I see beets on a menu, I order them. Beet ravioli -- Yes, please. Beet risotto -- I think I will. I don't know if I've ever turned down a beet salad, and certainly not when goat cheese or gorgonzola is in the mix. I like the taste of beets just fine...I like the look of them even more. But the real reason I order beets at restaurants is because I like when someone else cooks them for me. I sort of hate roasting beets.
This is the only way I can explain my weekly reaction to finding yet another bunch of beets in the bottom of my CSA Farm Box. At first, I think, "Beets!" I start mentally rummaging through the variations on beet salad I could make: "Arugula and sunflower seeds ... mache with black olives and ricotta salata ... green beans and feta ... carrot and cumin vinaigrette... Beets!" Then, a few days pass while my beets sit quietly in the crisper drawer. Every time I open the refrigerator, I know they're there, just waiting. I start to resent them. My bag of beets starts to feel like a burden. I knew these vegetables were weighing on me when I began to think of them as bodies in need of being disposed. It's hard work, messy, likely to stain your cutting surfaces, and might even require a little bleach to remove all its traces. But its necessary work, and what a sense of relief once its done.
In search of recipes to make a dent in my growing beet collection before the arrival of another bunch in next week's Farm Box, I focused on techniques other than roasting. What I found still involved heating my kitchen a bit, but a good raw beet recipe is hard to find. I came up with two successes, both trolled from epicurious.com.
I've often had intentions of making chips out of non-potato vegetables, but it took a beet burden to make it happen. I was happy to find a recipe that didn't involve deep frying, which is not at all a late summer cooking technique. These beet chips are soaked in sugar water, which helps them crisp in the oven. The result is a sweet, crunchy chip, deep red in color, and very light. There's not a speck of oil in these munchies. They're quite sweet ... sort of like candy-coated potato chips. I sprinkled mine with plenty of salt and pepper. Next time, I might add a dusting of cumin.
Beet latkes don't require any oven heating at all, but they might splatter your dress with hot oil. I may have cussed a bit, but I couldn't stay cranky once I bit into a hot latke: crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle, with a whiff of the exotic. The sweet flesh of the beets becomes rich, almost meaty tasting, when muscled up with a bit of flour and eggs, and fried in a cast iron skillet.
So, I'm beet-free for the moment, and without giving into the foil-wrapping, roasting, and peeling routine. Beets are messy things, though, and both of these recipes are likely to leave you spattered with red juice. Wear an apron when you grate the beets for the latkes. My kitchen looked like a scene from Sweeney Todd by the time I'd finished shredding.
Baked Beet Chips
Makes a snack for four people. From Gourmet, June 2004.
4 large beets
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup sugar
coarse salt and pepper
1. Peel beets with a vegetable peeler, then slice paper-thin with a mandoline. [Some of the epicurious user comments about this recipe complain that the chips don't become crisp enough. I think that problem comes from slicing the beets too thickly. I wouldn't make these unless I had a mandoline ... I just wouldn't be able to slice the beets thin enough.]
2. Bring water and sugar to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add beets, then remove pan from heat and let stand15 minutes. Drain beets in a colander, discarding liquid, then let stand in colander 15 minutes more.
3. Preheat oven to 225°F.
4. Line two baking sheets a nonstick (Silpat-type) liner. Place a sheet of parchment paper on top of liners. This will keep your chips from sticking to the baking sheets or burning. Arrange beet slices snugly in 1 layer. Sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. [You'll likely have many partial or broken slices. Once baked, they'll taste just as good as the pretty ones, but you can toss them if you fancy your beet chips nice and round.]
5. Bake beets until dry, about 1 hour. Using a thin spatula, immediately transfer chips to a rack to cool (chips will crisp more as they cool).
Note: Gourmet's recipe claims you can make these up to five days in advance and store them, once cool, in an airtight container. This didn't work for me. It may be the humidity in Pittsburgh, but my chips quickly wilted. In fact, I would recommend eating these at their most crispy -- right after they've cooled.
Makes about 12. From Bon Appetit, December 2004.
6 cups coarsely shredded peeled beets (about 6 medium)
3 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
Canola oil (for frying)
1. Place beets in large bowl, and press with paper towels to absorb any moisture. In another large bowl, whisk flour and next 5 ingredients. Mix in beets, scallions, then eggs.
2. Pour enough oil into large skillet to cover bottom; heat over medium heat. Working in batches, drop beet mixture by 1/4 cupfuls into skillet. Spread to 3 1/2-inch rounds. Fry until golden, 4-5 minutes per side. Transfer latkes to baking sheet.
Can be made 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm in 350°F oven until crisp, about 10 minutes.
Celery and Cilantro Relish
Makes about 2 cups.
I made this accompanying celery relish because I had all of the ingredients, and I'm glad I did. To the original recipe, I added some lemon juice and a handful of raisins. It proved a fine way to freshen up a plateful of latkes.
2 cups finely diced celery
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 cup raisins
Combine all ingredients in medium bowl. Season relish with salt and pepper. Let stand at least 30 minutes. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover and chill.) Makes about 2 cups.