Thursday, September 25, 2008

Summer Beet Salad

I have to admit that I had never been a big fan of beets – I thought of them as red potatoes, and I don’t like potatoes. However, this summer I prepared them at home for the first time and was surprised at how tasty they were, especially complemented with goat cheese, oranges and nuts. Given my sweet tooth, it’s surprising that beets aren’t a favorite since they contain more sugar than any other vegetable including carrot and sweet corn. Beets have 8-10% sugar while the closely related sugar beet can contain 15-20% sugar.

Beets (also known as garden beets or blood turnips) have been part of the human diet for millennia. Five thousand year old beet remains have been found at the ancient city of Thebes in Egypt and at a Neolithic site in the Netherlands. Domesticated beets are referenced in Roman and Jewish literary sources as far back as the 1st century BC. The garden beet is Beta vulgaris subspecies vulgaris, while chard (often called Swiss chard) is the closely related Beta vulgaris subspecies cicla, grown primarily for its leaves. They have both evolved from the sea beet which is Beta vulgaris subspecies maritima.

The Romans used beets as a remedy for fevers and constipation. They were also considered an aphrodisiac – substantiated due to their high boron content, which plays a role in the production of human sex hormones. More recently, beet juice has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Its properties as a panacea, however, have been overstated. South Africa’s Health Minister, now jokingly referred to as Dr. Beetroot, preposterously suggested beets and other vegetables as alternatives to antiretroviral drugs in the treatment of HIV/AIDS patients. Consuming beets can have unusual side effects such as causing red urine (known as beeturia) or red stool. Don’t worry – neither of these conditions is harmful.

Beets can be eaten steamed, roasted, pickled, canned or served raw. They can also be distilled into wine or spirits. Beet pulp is sometimes fed to horses, and the beet pigments are widely used as a food colorant.

Serves 4

3 medium beets (about 1 1/2 lbs)
6 ounces lettuce, washed and dried
1 blood orange, peeled, slices cut in half
4 ounces goat or feta cheese
1/3 cup toasted walnuts or hazelnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for roasting
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

1. Wash and peel beets. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Note: beet juice is dark red and stains clothes and hands easily. In a glass or metal baking dish, toss beets with olive oil, salt and pepper.
2. Cover with foil and bake at 350F for 30-45 minutes, or until the beets are tender. Cool to room temperature. The beets can be roasted a day in advance. [second photo above]
3. On salad plates, mound the lettuce. Top with roasted beets, orange pieces, and cheese. Sprinkle with nuts and chives.
4. In a tight-lidded screw-top jar, mix olive oil, balsamic vinegar, orange juice, salt and pepper. Shake well and pour over salads.


Anonymous said...

Oooh ... beet salad is my absolute favorite and so healthy. And who
knew -- a laxative?

Keep those recipes coming, Aly. I love what you are doing. xxx. Anne

Anonymous said...

you can't possibly imagine how enticing this looks to someone who has been
living on sandwiches and caffeine for the last 2 weeks......

..a tiny streak of culinary sadism, perhaps...?

Anonymous said...

What a coincidence -- we just had beet salad! The blood oranges are a nice addition, I'll have to try that next time. I LOVE beets. I also love potatoes (do you really not like potatoes?!?), but I don't find that they taste similar at all. To me, beets taste most like corn.

-- Preeta