A Culinary Milestone

by Marina Chotzinoff

This recipe is a huge milestone for me. HUGE! For most of my life I have hated beets. As far as I was concerned they were the vegetable kingdom’s embodiment of pure evil. Flowery dirt that I could pick out even as coloring agents in smoothies. And despite this beet loathing, I dutifully tried them year after year. Once at a dinner party, I arrived at the table horrified to see a plate of beets at every seat. They were roasted and crispy with rosemary, cracked pepper and salt and if I was going to like a beet, that would surely be it. But as soon as that crispy exterior gave way, that same florally earth filled my mouth and my soul. I swallowed about 2/3 of the plate whole (chasing with wine) just to be polite and strategically moved the remaining few about the plate.

But after all those years I started to notice a subtle change. Very subtle. At a Japanese restaurant of all places I was served a very simple steamed beet. I gave it a go and still did not like it but could finally understand just a little bit why someone might. Next time I encountered them roasted once again and felt the ick meter move just a little bit more. And finally I decided to try and cook my own.

I was not comfortable enough to just serve them plain so I roasted, peeled, oiled and roasted again until crisp and served them with toasted walnuts, an orange balsamic dressing, piles of arugula and some slightly stinky blue cheese. I actually liked them and I was very proud. Since then I have cooked beets only one other time but for some reason I felt a need to go all the way and try them raw.

Brandishing some rubber gloves my husband uses for staining furniture, I peeled and shredded the beets. I decided to pickle them just a bit in some orange scented sherry vinegar and toss them with carrots, apples and tons of herbs. The dressing needed to be simple but complementary. Recalling how good the walnuts were previously I chose to use walnut oil, the juice from the orange and some toasted coriander and chile to play up the floral notes in the beets. Finally I added a pile of fried quinoa which is surprisingly crunchy and nutty.

I think it is a really satisfying and well balanced salad- good on its own or boosted a bit with the help of some good cheese and shredded chicken. Next I might tackle that vicious attack lettuce frisee….

Fried Quinoa, Roots and Herbs

Serves 4

1 cup black or red quinoa
1 cup beets, peeled, julienned (about 2 medium)
1 cup carrots, peeled, julienned (about 3 large)
1 apple, julienned
1/2 lemon
1/4 cup brown or turbinado sugar (white would be fine as well)
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 orange
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper
1 tablespoon chives
2 tablespoons walnut oil
1/4 teaspoon coriander, toasted, ground
1/4 teaspoon aleppo or red chile
1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard

Bring quinoa to a boil in 3-4 cups salted water and cook 15 minutes or until done. Drain well, spread on a baking sheet and let dry a bit. I put mine in the oven with the convection on, but no heat. Can be made ahead and kept in an airtight container in the fridge.

Toss carrots and apples together, cover with water. Squeeze lemon into bowl, add peel and chill in fridge (up to a day).

Simmer vinegar, sugar, water, salt and 4 thick strips of zest from orange until sugar is dissolved then let cool. Pour over beets and chill at least an hour and up to two days.

Heat about 1/2″ vegetable oil in a small pot and working in batches, fry quinoa. Drain on paper towel and salt lightly.

Mix 2 T juice from orange with mustard, chives, coriander, chile and salt to taste. Whisk in walnut oil until emulsified. Drain carrots and apples pressing gently. Drain beets. Toss together with dressing and parsley. Stir in quinoa just before serving.

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