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Think beets for Christmas

Beets are in. Not that they were ever ‘out’ but recently beets have become the trendy item on the menu far beyond the pickled stage of years past. Now they are roasted, marinated, featured in salads and teamed with their golden and pink cousins on sleek plates to tantalize the eye as well as the palate. Sweet and full bodied in flavour, beets’ vibrant magenta adds a festive touch, suitable for the holiday season where rich tones are required both in flavour and visual appeal. Cook with beets this holiday season and see if your guests are asking for more!

Basic Roasted Beets

The beets of my youth were always scrubbed, skins left on and boiled in water until tender. Once cooked and cooled enough to handle, you squeezed the beet to pop it out of its jacket. That left it sleek and shiny, ready to be tossed with butter and served hot as a main course vegetable or marinated in a vinaigrette for a condiment.

That was then. Now you scrub the beet, preferably with others of similar size, toss in olive oil and roast on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 400°F ( 200°C) until tender, about 25-35 minutes (depending on size of beet, of course – the bigger the beet, the longer the cooking time).

Beets are wonderful mixed with other roots: leeks, carrots, potatoes, onions and parsnips can all be roasted together. Once cooked, sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and enjoy as a warm salad or as a perfect accompaniment to roast meat or poultry. How could anything so simple taste sooo yummy?!

Beet and Chèvre Salad

This makes a wonderful starter for a festive dinner – the colour is dramatic and the taste is an excellent contrast of sweet, tart, soft and crunchy.

8 cups (2 L) baby spinach leaves

2 cups (500 mL) roasted small, uniformly-sized beets or sliced
larger beets, roasted

1/2 cup (125 mL) candied walnuts,
instructions follow

½ cup (125 mL) thin slices of
vidalia or red-skinned onion

½ cup (125 mL) thinly sliced red
pepper

4 oz (125 g) crumbled chèvre cheese

Vinaigrette:

1 cup (250 mL) canola oil

1/3 cup (75 mL) white wine vinegar

2 tbsp (25mL) liquid honey

1 tbsp (15 mL) Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp (5 mL) salt

½ tsp (2 mL) black pepper

To prepare candied walnuts: Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C); line baking sheet with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl, toss walnuts with 1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil then toss in a bowl with 2 tbsp (25 mL) granulated sugar. Arrange walnuts on baking sheet in single layer and bake until fragrant and golden, about 8-10 minutes. Cool.

To prepare vinaigrette: In a blender add oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, garlic, salt and pepper. Combine until well blended. Pour into jar and refrigerate. This is enough dressing for several salads. Will keep up to two weeks refrigerated.

In a mixing bowl, toss together spinach leaves, cooled walnuts, onion and red pepper with vinaigrette. Arrange equal quantities on four to six salad plates; arrange baby beets or sliced whole ones on top of salad with crumbled pieces of chevre cheese. (Hint: arrange beets at the end so that colour does not run.)

Borscht in a Jiffy

A quick rendition of the traditional borscht, this is the ideal soup for a harried host or hostess. For a dramatic presentation, serve this ‘cheater’s version’ of the glorious beet soup in pure white bowls garnished with a swirl of sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh dill.

1 can (14 oz/ 396 mL) beets and liquid

3 cups (750 mL) garden cocktail

1 bay leaf

1 slice cooking onion

1 slice lemon

1 tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar

Garnish:

½ cup (125 mL) sour cream or plain yogurt

¼ cup (50 mL) fresh chopped dill

In a blender, puree beets and liquid with garden cocktail until smooth. Pour into saucepan; add bay leaf, onion, lemon, and sugar. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer uncovered 10 to 20 minutes (depending on time is available).

Pour soup through sieve into bowl; ladle soup into serving bowls and garnish with a spoon of sour cream topped with fresh dill. Makes four servings.

 

Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer - janmainskitchen@yahoo.ca

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