For the locavore in me, beets are a good choice this time of the year. At my local natural market they are one of the few vegetables next to rutabaga, potatoes and onions advertised as “local vegetables.” Indeed, they are sweet tasting and, when prepped raw and shaved paper-thin, they have a particular earthy flavor note that I enjoy very much. Beet salads prepared with apples or oranges and goat cheese gives the perfect balance to that earthiness. Toasted nuts such as pistachios, pine nuts or pumpkin seeds add terrific textural contrast. Most of the time I keep several of those ingredients at home, which makes it easy to prepare beets in different styles.
Granted, larger beets have an extended cook time and the "bleeding" of the deep-red color can get tricky on white kitchen counters. The other day I happily discovered pre-cooked, vacuum-packed beets at the before-mentioned local natural food market. It took the red-staining prep work out of my beet preparation and gave birth to several delectable beet dishes. A major plus was that these pre-cooked beets were soft enough to be cut with my egg slicer, which saved my white cutting board from being stained.
Chef’s note: An egg slicer is a harp-like small kitchen tool. Cutting avocados, eggs and now red beets becomes a mess-free event. It makes perfect thin, even slices. A couple of bucks spent was well worth the investment for the egg slicer.
I studied the ingredient list of the pre-cooked beets and realized that there were no other ingredients in the beet’s boiling process, so they needed seasoning. I tossed my sliced beets in a bowl with sunflower seed oil, balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of black truffle oil. I keep black truffle oil in the refrigerator, which keeps it from getting rancid since a small amount goes a long way and the oil can last for several months in my kitchen. A dash of sea salt and a few turns of black pepper from my pepper mill wrapped up the seasoning step. I arranged the dressed beets in one straight line in the middle of white plates. Then, I sprinkled the beets with fragrant basil strips and toasted, salted pine nuts, which added richness. For acidic punch I sprinkled a few chunks of oranges onto the beets. It was a stunningly simple dish prepared in under 30 minutes and looked like it could have been served in any mannered restaurant.
(recipe yields four portions)
1 pack vacuum packed beets, 16 ounces
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon black truffle oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
8 grindings black pepper from the mill
2 tablespoons toasted, salted pine nuts
3 basil leaves sliced into 1/8” thick strips
1 orange, peeled with a knife and chopped into ¼-inch cubes
Chef’s tip: Wear disposable plastic gloves or use a plastic bag over your hands when prepping beets—it will protect your fingers and fingernails from the crimson-red beet juice.