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SWEET, SWEETER, SWEETEST
Beets, also known as beetroot or garden beets, (and a different variety from the sugar beet that majorly gives us our daily dose of sweet), have become, over the last dozen years or so an unqualified veggie “yum,” after many years of being relegated to the realm of “yuck.” This relatively newfound fame comes as beets in rainbow colors (red, purple, yellow, variegated, and even striped) are found in abundance at green markets, specialty stores and supermarkets virtually year round, and chefs, cooking school instructors and nutritionists are touting this ancient vegetable’s sweet, earthy taste. In addition to the benefit of adding color, taste and texture to your plate, beets are a good source of fiber, iron, beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, and folate.
From a culinary point of view beets, as well as their edible green-leaved stems, are associated with a specific cache of recipes as side dish or soup, and we’ve showcased those in our version of a the classic beet and cabbage borscht, and a simple, seasonal beet and pear salad. But as we were researching this issue, I recalled a long-ago test kitchen experience in which my fellow test kitchen associates and I were asked by our food editor to create cake recipes using different vegetable ingredients. In addition the ubiquitous carrot, tomato, and tomato soup, I remember trying sauerkraut, lima beans, and beets. My personal notes on these recipes are long gone, but further research uncovered several historical references to beets as the major color enhancer for red velvet cake, and a few, more recent cookbook recipes and blog posts for beets used beets as we did to add moisture, but no beet flavor, to chocolate cakes. Our Spiced Chocolate Beet Cake is an amalgam of those recipes, with a special nod to Brit cook/writer Nigel Slater’s rendition in his cookbook Tender, volume 1.
We hope these recipes make you want to beat it on down to your favorite market, pick out a bunch of fresh, nutritious and colorful beets and get cookin’.
Roasted Beet Borscht
2 medium beets, rinsed and dried
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large sweet onion, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large apple, peeled, cored and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium carrots, scraped and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium potatoes, pared and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
3 cups chopped cabbage
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Sour cream and dill sprigs, optional
1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Place beets on a sheet of aluminum foil; drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Wrap beets in foil; place on a baking sheet. Roast about 1 hour or until fork tender.
2. Rinse beets under running cold water to slip them free of their skins. Chop beets and set aside.
3. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Add onion and cook until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add apple, carrots and potatoes. Cook and stir 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Stir in the tomatoes, 1 tomato can of water, and the honey. Bring to a boil, then simmer about 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Cool slightly.
5. In a blender container or in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, carefully ladle about 2 cups of the soup. Process until pureed. Return pureed mixture to the saucepan, add the vinegar, chopped dill, and the add the reserved beets. Simmer over low heat until heated through. Chill, if serving cold.
6. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and, if desired, top each serving with a dollop of sour cream and a sprig of dill.
Beet, Pear & Red Onion Salad
4 medium beets, rinsed and trimmed
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 small red onion, sliced
1 large ripe pear, pared, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Green leaf lettuce
Chopped fresh parsley
1. Place whole beets in a medium saucepan; cover with water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt; stir. Lower heat, cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until fork tender. Let cool, then run under cold water and slip off and discard skins.
2. Cut beets into chunks and place in a large bowl; toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt, pepper and rosemary.
3. Add onion and pears and lightly toss.
4. In a small bowl, whisk remaining olive oil, the vinegar, mustard, lemon zest and juice. Pour over beet mixture. Let salad stand at room temperature about 30 minutes to let flavors (and color) meld. Salad can also be covered and chilled for a few hours.
5. Just before serving, line a serving plate with lettuce leaves. Spoon the beet salad over the lettuce. Sprinkle with parsley.
Spiced Chocolate Beet Cake
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
8 ounces cooked fresh whole or canned beets, cut into chunks
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup hot prepared espresso
5 eggs, separated
Scant 1 cup granulated sugar
Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling
1. Into a small bowl, sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice; set aside. Butter 9x2-inch round cake pan. Cut piece of parchment paper to fit bottom of cake pan. Butter the parchment. Set pan aside. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. In the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, process beets until finely but not completely pureed; remove from workbowl to a small bowl and set aside.
3. In a large microwave-safe bowl, heat chocolate and butter on High about 1 minute until chocolate is just melted; stir to combine. Stir in espresso; let cool slightly. Lightly whisk the egg yolks then whisk into the chocolate mixture to combine. Stir in the reserved beets.
4. In large bowl of electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on high speed adding sugar a little at a time, until stiff peaks form. Stir a small amount of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining egg white mixure, then fold in flour mixture.
5. Turn batter into prepared cake pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until cake springs back when touched near side, but is sill slightly wet in center.
6. Remove pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Loosen cake from side of pan with a small spatula. Invert pan onto the wire rack; remove parchment. Just before serving, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.