Saturday, May 17, 2008

A brief word on Beets

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious…The beet is a melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip…” -Tom Robbins, “Jitterbug Perfume”

Nutritionally there are few veggies as good for you as the beet. Beets are high in Folate, which is necessary for the production and maintenance of new cells. They are also loaded with Vitamin C, dietary fiber and antioxidants. The beet is also high in betaine which is a nutrient that plays an important role in the health of the cardiovascular system. The beet because of these reasons has been described as a ‘panacea’ which plays a part in the secret to immortality in “Jitterbug Perfume”. Eat the beet.

Beet Gratin

This dish was a challenge. I wanted a dish to appeal to anyone who has celiac or is required to be on a gluten and dairy free diet. Gluten and dairy free meals are hard to come by and even harder to make well. Coming from a French culinary background I don’t feel the need to expound on their indulgent use of cream, butter and cheese. Whenever a dish wasn’t tasty enough, the “French Fix” was employed; a heavy wallop of butter and or cream into any soup, sauce, risotto, polenta etc. It was effective but there are other ways of coaxing out good flavors from food than just adding fat. Thus my Beet Gratin.

1 Bunch of Large Beets (3 pieces) or 2 Bunches of Small (6 Pieces)
450 Ml Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
1 Nub of Ginger appx 1” in diameter
¼ cup of Onions, diced fine
1/2 Cup Whole Almonds
4 Tbls of Tahini
1 Cup Vegetable Stock*
1 Tbls Lemon juice
½ Tspn sriracha
Salt & Pepper to taste

*Vegetable Stock

Vitamins B & C are water soluble, which means that when you boil/steam vegetables as a cooking method you lose the nutrients thus the reason to eat them. Steaming is better but you still lose the vitamins. Vitamins are quicker to absorb into your body in a liquid fashion anyway so save the water that you cook all vegetables in. Boiling beets for this recipe? Reserve some of the juices (careful of the dirt). Boiling carrots for a puree? Or steaming broccoli? Save it all add a bay leaf, ½ Tbls of whole peppercorns and ½ Tbls of Coriander seeds boil it again for 20 minutes and use it to add depth to a soup or stir fry. Freeze it for a later use.

1. Boil beets in salted water until a knife pierces them easily (about 30 minutes depending on the size of the beet).
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
3. While the beets are boiling, dice up the ginger and onion fine and place in a skillet on med-high heat with orange juice. Reduce by half.
4. Add vegetable stock and reduce that by half.
5. Toast the almonds in a skillet without any oil. Allow them to cool in a bowl. Add a bit of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss so it coats them evenly. Chop and set aside.
6. Once the vegetable/orange/ginger mixture is reduced, place it in a blender with tahini and lemon juice. Be mindful when blending hot liquids.
7. Run the beets under cold water when they are finished to stop the cooking. When they are cool enough to handle, slice into ½ cm rounds or thereabouts. Layer them in a small baking pan (I used an 8x8 pan). After the first layer is set, drizzle the tahini/orange mixture over the beets. Continue this procedure one more time or until there are 2 or 3 layers depending on the amount of beets you have.
8. Bake for 20 minutes and top the gratin with the chopped almonds.

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