I've fallen. Hard. The culprit? Beets.
Beets are among the family of vegetables that are commonly misunderstood -- siblings to the turnip, the Brussels sprout, spinach. Insert any of these vegetable names to the end of the following sentence, and you'll know what I mean: "Tommy (or Billy, or Katie, or Jeane-Claude), you can't leave the table until you finish your [blank]."
From an early age, children are trained to hate these vegetables. They're denied toys, television, ice cream, sleep, and forced to sit chained to the dining room table and stare at a plate of cold food. And who do these children blame for their pain and suffering? The beets, of course (or the turnips or Brussels sprouts, but for the sake of this particular story, let's just say it was the beets).
I mean, you never really hear anyone say, "Mmmm, I just looooove turnips" or "Can I have more Brussels sprouts please?" And if you do, that person is probably accustomed to getting weird looks. Lately, I've been professing my love for beets to anyone who will listen. I haven't gotten that many weird looks yet, but I think that's because they're just trying to be polite. Gotta love Murdo for being honest, though -- I believe his response was, "Yuck." He says that a lot when I gush over vegetables.
It doesn't help the poor beets' campaign that they're hideous things, raw and bunched together in dirty, gnarly bundles, with tough skin and twisted tails not unlike a small rodent's. But after trying them roasted from a salad bar a few weeks ago and coming back for more every other day since then, I decided that it was definitely time to tackle the vegetable on my own. I had no idea what an eye-opening experience it would be for me.
Is eye-opening a freakish way to describe my feelings toward roasting beets? It's the only word I can think of right now that can explain how cool it is to watch these things transform from hairy beast to smooth, polished jewel.
After trimming, scrubbing, and roasting for 40 minutes in a half-inch of water, I peeled back the ugly skin to reveal bright flesh: tender, smooth, delicate, RED. They kissed everything they touched, leaving lipstick smudges on my fingers and paper towels. It was like finding treasure. And eating them? Every time I take a bite, I feel like I'm tasting the earth, deep and rich, in a garden, having lunch with Mother Nature herself.
I think the key to loving beets (or spinach, or turnips) is discovering them for yourself. I can't force little Jeane-Claude to eat his vegetables, but I can give him this recipe, and show him these pictures, and maybe if I'm lucky, he'll just be polite enough to try them on his own. And then maybe he'll fall hard, too. And maybe you'll fall hard with him.
Be sure to scrub the beets and trim away (but don't toss!!!) the greens. The greens can be treated like any other leafy green, such as kale or spinach. I sauteed mine with olive oil, onions, and cherry tomatoes and topped with a fried egg. But enough about the greens. The real stars are red.
6 small beets, scrubbed and trimmed (or 3-4 large or medium)
Preheat oven to 425 F. Place scrubbed and trimmed beets in a baking dish in 1/2 inch of water. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and place in oven. Roast for 40 minutes, depending on size. Mine were pretty small, as I've read that smaller beets are more tender, but medium beets should be roasted for 45 minutes and larger beets, 50. They're done when easily pierced with a fork.
Drain the dish and allow beets to cool. When cool enough to handle, use plastic glove or paper towels to peel/wipe away the skin. You'll be amazed at the transformation. Slice and toss into a salad with fresh herbs and dressing, or eat plain, like I did.