I didn’t eat beets as a kid: I don’t think my mother liked them, so they rarely showed up on our table. I remember them as canned, saucer-like vegetables that occasionally appeared on our lunch trays at school. They were usually cold, and had an odd, earthy smell. So when we received these red roots as part of our farm share a few years ago, I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I hated the idea of wasting food, but try as I might I could not give them away.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As it happened, my husband (I call him my own personal “master chef”) knew just what to do with our farm share beets. One night we had them sliced and roasted in olive oil with just a hint of sea salt. Another night he used cooked beet slivers to assemble a salad of mixed greens, goat cheese and pine nuts, drizzled with vinaigrette. Mmm, mmm, mmm… my mouth is watering at the memory.
Beets found their way to the forefront of my menu planning again this past fall, in an attempt to “eat with the seasons.” Beets are harvested late, and have a long shelf life. Following a recommendation from my friend, Graham, an acupuncturist at WholeHealth Acupuncture in Yarmouth, I delved into some recipes from Mostly Macro: A Guide to Healthy Cuisine for the Discriminating Palate. Using differently shaded beets (red and golden), I created the sweet, poppyseed-coated “Appled Beets” (page 167) and the colorful, crunchy, “Watercress Beets with Walnuts.” To keep the integrity of the beet colors, I prepared them separately and combined them just before serving. These yielded side dishes that were both beautiful and delicious. And I got to marvel over the rich hues of the leftover beet-water. I liked both of these recipes, but I’m sharing the one that features watercress, because I’m often at a loss with how to use this nutritious green. I find it bitter when eaten alone, but it combines nicely with the other ingredients in this recipe.
Watercress Beets with Walnuts
2 cups cooked beets, julienned
1 large bunch watercress, rinsed well and chopped, with stems removed
½ cup walnuts
¼ cup brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin (rice wine, used for cooking)
1 tablespoon tahini (ground sesame seed paste)
1 tablespoon gomashio (a seasoning available in the Asian section of the supermarket, comprised of sesame seeds and salt)
Combine the beets, watercress, and walnuts in a large bowl.
Mix the remaining ingredients until smooth, and toss with the beets. Serve chilled.
I enjoyed the beets so much that I brought them to our family Thanksgiving dinner. This festive affair takes place at Cape Porpoise’s Atlantic Hall, and is largely orchestrated by my Uncle Dana and his wife Bonnie. Four generations of our family have been gathering regularly on this occasion for more than fifteen years. This year, we were fortunate to have my brother, Brian, back from Japan, where he had been stationed with the Marines. Noticeably absent from the table were my brothers, Matt and John, who were deployed with the military in the Middle East, and my sister Adelle, who had just returned from her stint there.
Though absent from the family holidays, Matt, John and Adelle figured prominently in our celebrations. One way that we kept them firmly in our consciousness was through a ‘peace tree,’ that until recently held a place of honor in our living room. We unveiled the peace tree during our holiday party in early December. Each of our party participants brought an ornament to hang on our humble artificial tabletop fir. These ranged from a handmade felt dove to a miniature winter scene from the Portland Museum of Art.
Though Christmas is long since past, I didn’t want to dismantle the peace tree completely until my brothers were both safely home. I finally moved it this week onto our enclosed back porch. John should be returning any day—his Navy ship was patrolling the Persian Gulf. Matt, stationed in Iraq with the Army (on loan from the Air Force), is also due back soon. Fortunately, my sister, Adelle, finished her Middle East assignment as an orthopedic surgeon with the Air Force in September. She had been married less than a year before she was deployed last spring.
My siblings missed some great food at our “peace tree celebration.” Realizing that our friends (and their children) have a broad range of tastes—and many fine shareable recipes—we made our celebration potluck. Our family’s personal contributions leaned toward festive red, green and white vegetarian entrees:
- Steamed edamame (whole soybean pods) sprinkled with coarse sea salt—strangely, kids seem to love these
- Homemade hummus (OK, so these don’t fall into the red, green and white color palette)
- Vegetarian chili
- Rice with chestnuts
- Macrobiotic “Crispy Rice Treats ” treats (more about this in a future blog)
And, of course, beets!