No lie. After years of trying to like them, and hating them, I finally cooked them…and ate them..and mostly…..liked them. It is hard to believe. Watching my daughter’s face when she comes upon something disagreeable, a face we all must have been born with but learned over time to mask out of politeness, is exactly what I have always felt eating beets. The perfumy dirt that lingers from a beet is something I always found gag-inducing and I could even pick the subtle beet notes out of a fruit smoothie. Sometimes I had trouble with eating swiss chard or even spinach which could sometimes take on a bit of beetiness.
And every year I would try beets in different incarnations thinking a time would come when I would like them just as I had gotten over my childhood hatred of ginger and boozey sauces. I once attended a dinner party where a plate of beautifully roasted beets greeted us upon being seated. Toasty brown edges with rosemary and a sprinkling of fleur de sel and cracked pepper seemed the ideal way to finally like this root veg. But one bite said otherwise and I ended up swallowing just enough of them whole with swallows of wine to make it look as though I enjoyed them.
Then somehow over the last year, each beet tasting got a little less offensive. I had some in a salad at a japanese restaurant that tasted more like very fresh, raw corn than the perfumy dirt of beets past. I tried them again in a dish at Cholon, this time the more mellow yellow variety, and found they were still in the “not so terrible” part of the flavor scale, but had yet to reach the “actually tasty” section.
So for my last night of Meatless March (Ryan traded me for tonight) I decided I would tackle my most notorious culinary enemy. Again, SIL Sarah gave me a useful link- this one for how to roast beets. I had been browsing recipes thinking I would do a salad of sorts and found one that had a walnut vinaigrette. That sounded like a great way to temper the sweetness and I thought the toasted nuts would be a nice complement to the earthy flavor. So as I headed to the store chewing on that idea and thinking about what would go on the side.
I won’t lie. My main plan for liking these beets was to offer plenty of flavors to mask a bit of the beet. I figured that in addition to the walnut dressing, a bitter green and some flavorful cheese would be good. A lot of recipes seemed to pair oranges with beets so I decided that I would reduce my blood orange vinegar and make a drizzle of sorts. I also chose Maytag blue cheese because it was not too potent, but would offer not only some creamy bites, but a bit of punch.
At first I thought a mushroom tart would be a good accompaniment, but it didn’t seem substantial enough so I decided on a veggie pot pie. With cream cheese biscuit crust. So I browsed the veggie isle throwing a parsnip, a turnip (that one’s for you Lori), some carrots, some kale, a leek, a cauliflower and some mushrooms in the cart. And then, I grabbed the beets. They had some lovely greens attached so I decided I would add those to the mix as well.
Once I got home, I washed and trimmed the beets, wrapped them individually in foil and threw them in a 400 degree convection oven for about 45 minutes. Once I started to smell the beets, I got a little worried because they had that beety smell I have hated for so long. But I toughed it out and began to prepare the rest of the meal.
I thinly sliced a handful of mushrooms and about 1/2 cup of leeks and sauteed them in butter until they were very brown. I threw in some veggie bouillon and 4 cups of water and simmered until the broth had a really deep and wonderful flavor. I cubed the parsnip, turnip and 2 carrots and threw them in the broth and roasted the cauliflower in a hot oven with olive oil and garlic powder. When the veggies were tender, I added the cauliflower and beet greens. I had decided to make kale “chips” and coated several leaves in cooking spray and baked in the oven until crisp. This works much better on a flatter kale than the lacinato I had, but they turned out ok. I topped the whole bubbly vat with some cream cheese and cheddar biscuit dough (with chives and thyme from our garden- yay spring!) that I got from the King Arthur flour website. It went into the oven for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, I peeled the beets (holy red hands), cut them into eight pieces each, tossed them in good olive oil, kosher salt and cracked pepper and put them back in the oven to get slightly browned. I had tried, and failed, at reducing the orange vinegar with rosemary. Having so many other things going on, it went faster than I anticipated (twice) and it turned into a burnt black mess. Once the pot pie was in the oven, I tried once more, this time using half orange vinegar, half balsamic and a pinch of rosemary. Once it got syrupy I added a little lemon juice. It was good, but I didn’t have a ton of it and it was pretty thick so I blended it up with half the toasted walnuts with some more lemon juice and s&p. “Licious!” as my daughter would say. I tossed the beets, an herby lettuce mix (mache, arugula, radiccio) and more toasted walnuts with the dressing and crumbled the cheese on top.
Once the pot pie was browned and crusty on top, I took it out, added a hearty scoop to my plate, topped it all with two crispy kale chips and voila. Now all I had to do was eat the beets. And I did. And they were good. I can’t go so far yet as to say I will be cooking them again soon, but it was a major leap forward for me and the salad was truly a great balance of flavors. Even Ryan, who hates stinky cheese, gave it a thumbs up. The root vegetables in the pot pie were great too and it didn’t bother me at all that there was no meat in the pie. But I would be lying if I told you I was not already planning to have bacon for breakfast tomorrow…