Sunday, September 19, 2010

Meatless Monday: Golden Beet Love

California golden beets (right) next to their red cousins 
When I first saw golden beets at the Mountain View Farmers Market in February 2008, I did not know what they were. But once I had the chance to try them, it was love at first bite. Now I find myself craving them, and planning meals around them. Golden beets are not as easy to find as the earthier red ones, but this time of year you can pick them up at the local farmers market, or farm stand, or even at Whole Foods.

Golden beets do not bleed when you cook them. They do not stain your sink or your fingers. Like their red relatives, they are vitamin and mineral packed. (Beets are listed as one of the 11 best foods we are not eating.) When cooked they have a beautiful blush and a milder, more subtle taste, but they are still flavorful. Properly prepared, golden beets should turn anyone into a beet lover.

Gardeners among you can find the seeds at a couple of places. At Burpee’s the description reads: "Heirloom. A color breakthrough when we introduced this savory golden beet in the 1940's, it won over gardeners who wanted a beet with a sweeter, milder flavor, and others who just loved the inviting gold color. Globes reach 2 inches across. 55 days to maturity." Since the 1940’s? How come I am just hearing about them 70 years later? Yet another case of better late than never.

On our recent trip West I so enjoyed a golden beet and goat cheese salad at the University Café in Palo Alto that I decided to try to recreate the recipe at home.

I bought a nice looking bunch of golden beets, brought them home, and cut off the greens about 2” from the top. (Normally I would have steamed the greens, which are even more rich in nutrients, but nice as the beets were, these greens were not in very good shape.) I scrubbed them and then dried them well. I took out a trusty cast iron skillet just large enough to hold them all, and placed the beets gently into it. Then I drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt and roasted them in a 400° oven, uncovered, rolling the beets around a couple of times, until they became tender. These were fairly good-sized so it took around 45 minutes. Some cooks advise steaming the beets under a cover of aluminum foil, but I find they have more flavor with this method (uncovered), and the roasting imparts such a nice smell to the kitchen.

When the beets were fork tender, I removed them from the pan and let them cool until I could gently pop them out of their skins using my fingers (about 15 minutes; I am a wimp).

While they were cooling, I mixed up a dressing. I thought it best if I lightened up the typical vinaigrette that I use on the hearty red ones. So I substituted white vinegar for the red, and also added a bit of orange juice. These proportions worked well for me — 4 tablespoons of my best California cold pressed extra virgin olive oil to 1 teaspoon of orange juice and 3 teaspoons of good white wine vinegar. I also added a bit of salt, some freshly ground black pepper, and a teaspoon of dried oregano. Start with the olive oil and orange juice and then taste away as you add the vinegar. You might like a more or less tart flavor.

I created a nice bed of mixed greens and a few red onion rings in two salad bowls, sliced the warm beets, divided them between the two salads, and then added one ounce of goat cheese to the top of each. The cheese melted into a creamy pool of deliciousness upon contact with the warm beets. I finished the salads by drizzling the dressing over each.

The dish came out remarkably close to the flavor of the salad I had so savored in Palo Alto. My husband gave it a 10! Once the beets are roasted, the recipe is a snap. Do give this a try while beets are in season.
When you are done, don’t deep six your cast iron pan. In many parts of the country it’s cool enough to bake again. You know how much I love my cast iron pans, and I will be posting more recipes for them in the next few weeks. And at least one of them involves chocolate.

PS I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”

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