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Borscht: It’s About the Beef, Then the Beets


With all the talk of Russia these days because of the Winter Olympics, my thoughts have turned to an old favorite: borscht. That’s the electric-colored, beef-based beet soup Russian peasants created using what they had on hand. It endures to this day.

Beets give borscht its electric color.

Beets give borscht its electric color.

There are as many recipes out there for the dish as you can imagine and no two are alike. But there are a few basics, none more important than the beef stock that is the foundation of flavor. That’s right. The beef is more vital than the beets, at least traditionally. You see, this soup was actually a way of stretching beef flavor out into yet another meal, even when there was no beef to be had. Bones were used to create a rich stock that gave the illusion that there was meat in the soup. The magenta color of the beets was a way of masking what was really inside.

What was really inside? Vegetables and more vegetables. Beyond beets, you’ll often find cabbage, carrots, onion and probably the scraps of anything you have left behind that you want to toss in, such as a potato or turnip. (Not the potato peels, mind you. Those were used for vodka.)

If you’re a vegetarian, you can certainly use a vegetable stock. Just don’t tell my Russian ancestors.

Plus, you can serve this recipe hot or cold, depending on your tastes. I prefer it at room temperature.

Borscht

2 small bunches of beets, shredded or grated
1 medium onion, shredded
1 cup of shredded carrots
1 generous teaspoon salt, plus more to season
2 cups boiling water
6 cups beef stock, divided use
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups shredded cabbage
Juice of 1 lemon
Sour cream, for garnish
Cucumber, seeded and diced, for garnish
Dill, for garnish

Borscht

Borscht

In a stockpot, stir together the beets, onion and carrots. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt (or less if you are using a salty beef stock) over vegetables. Cover with boiling water and 2 cups boiling beef stock, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add remaining 4 cups stock, butter, cabbage and lemon juice. Let simmer for an additional 15. Taste. Adjust salt. Use an immersion blender to break up the vegetables further.

Serve warm or cold in a bowl with a spoon of sour cream and about 2 tablespoons of cucumber in each serving, if desired. Sprinkle a little dill over the top of each, if desired.

Makes 10-12 servings.

From John Griffin

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Ask a Foodie: How Long Do You Boil Beets?


Boil red and golden beets the same way.

Q. How long do you boil beets?

— M.J.

A. When I was a child, I remember picking beets in the backyard garden before Mom would boil them until tender. Then we’d salt them and melt butter all over them.

When I started cooking on my own, most of my cookbooks recommended roasting beets instead of boiling them, but there are uses for boiled beets, such as Panamanian-Style Beet Salad.

So, if you want to boil your beets, the easiest way is to clean them, then place them in a saucepan deep enough to let you cover them with water. Add a touch of salt and, if you don’t want the color to run, a splash of vinegar. Put them on the stove and boil until a fork is easily inserted into the flesh of beet. That could be anywhere from 35 minutes to 75 minutes or so, depending on the size of the beets.

When the beets are done, remove them from the stove and run cold water over them. That will make them easier to peel.

This process is the same if you are using red or golden beets.

If you have a question for Ask a Foodie, email either walker@savorsa.com or griffin@savorsa.com.

 

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Ask a Foodie: How Do You Roast Beets?


Roasted Beet and Pistachio Salad

Q. How do you roast beets. Do you cut them up first?

— Bonnie F.

A. It’s easy to roast beets, no matter the style you use.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Then clean your beets. Cut off the greens and reserve for another use. Rinse the whole beets and lay them on a sheet of aluminum foil. Cover with a bit of olive oil. About.com recommends a little more if you are going to use the beets in a salad, then using the beet-infused oil in your dressing. You can do this with any type of beet, including the more popular red, orange, white or chiogga (candy-striped).

Fold up the foil into a pouch and slip it into the oven. Bake for an hour at least and test for doneness by pricking one with a fork. If your beets are of different sizes, the smaller ones will cook sooner and you can remove those. Return the remaining beets to the oven and cook until tender.

Once the beets are ready, peel them and chop into the desired sizes.

Here’s a roasted beet salad recipe freely adapted from the new edition of “The Good Housekeeping Cookbook.”

Roasted Beet and Pistachio Salad

6-8 medium-sized beets, roasted
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3/4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or beet-infused oil)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
4 cups field greens and fresh herbs
1/2 cup pistachio nuts, roasted in foil for at least 4 minutes alongside the beets
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

Once the beets are roasted, peeled and cooled, cut into chunks. Set aside.

Make a dressing from the balsamic vinegar, mustard, oil, salt and pepper. Adjust seasoning to your taste.

Toss some of it with the field greens and line the bottom of your serving dish. Start with a little and toss for about 1 minute to make sure the greens are covered but not drowning.

Then toss some of the dressing on the beets and toss to make sure they are coated but not slick or oily. You may have some dressing left over.

Place the beets on top of the greens. Then sprinkle on the pistachios, the blue cheese and the mint. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Freely adapted from “The Good Housekeeping Cookbook”

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Make a Vegan Meal with Seasonal, Fresh Beets


Red and golden beets at the Pearl Brewery farmers market.

Beets are plentiful at local farmers markets these days. Last Saturday at the Pearl Brewery, several vendors had an array of styles and colors, and many can probably be found this evening at the market, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m.

White beets are sweeter than red, says Cora Lamar of Oak Hills Farm, who also had candy-striped beets with her. Golden beets were also available as were the traditional red beets.

You can use these sweet treats in a great many ways, from soup to simply roasted. Here’s a recipe that mixes them with apples and onions.

Sweet-and-Sour Beets and Apples

2 cups 1/2-inch cubes cooked and peeled beets (about 5 medium)
2 cups diced unpeeled tart apples, such as Fuji or Granny Smith
1/2 cup rustically cut onion
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
Nutmeg, to taste
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sweet-and-Sour Beets and Apples

In a 9-by-13-inch pan, combine beets, apple, onion, lemon juice and salt. Grate whole nutmeg or sprinkle ground nutmeg over the top. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Test for tenderness. If not tender enough, return to oven and bake another 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 2 main dish or 4 side dish servings.

Adapted from “Joy of Cooking”

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Scarlet Roasted Vegetables


A medley of root vegetables will turn scarlet from the beets.

“I call these scarlet vegetables because the beets bleed into the others, making everything red, messy and yummy,” Alicia Silverstone writes in “The Kind Diet” (Rodale, $29.99). “This is a pretty dish, perfect for Thanksgiving or any time.”

Scarlet Roasted Vegetables

4-6 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
3 large beets, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 parsnips, quartered lengthwise
1 large fennel bulb, halved, cored and thickly sliced
1-2 cups kabocha squash, cut into big chunks (peel only if the squash is not organic)
3-4 ribs celery, cut in 1-inch pieces
3-4 dried bay leaves
1/2 cup pecan halves
6-8 dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1-2 teaspoons shoyu (see note)
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a large, shallow baking dish.

Combine shallots, beets, parsnips, fennel, squash and celery, bay leaves, pecans, apricots, shoyu, lemon zest and oil in a mixing bowl. mix the vegetables to coat them well.

Transfer the vegetables to the prepared baking dish and spread out evenly. Cover with aluminum foil and roast for 40 minutes or until the vegetables are soft when pierced.

Remove the foil and roast for 15 minutes longer to let the vegetables brown a little. Remove from oven and toss with the lemon juice. Garnish with the parsley.

Note: Shoyu is a type of soy sauce. It is available at Asian Markets and Whole Foods.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From “The Kind Diet” by Alicia Silverstone

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Griffin to Go: A Tale of Two Beet Salads


The roasted beet salad at Il Sogno is part of the antipasti offerings.

Family legend has it that my first bite of real food was a beet. I was about 6 months old at the time, and I’ve been in love with beets ever since.

You can imagine my delight then to find fresh beet salads on two menus in town on two consecutive nights. I had to have both. And I’m glad I did.

The first was at Il Sogno at the Pearl Brewery, Andrew Weissman’s attempt to bring Italian food to a new level in San Antonio. He certainly succeeds in my book with his array of antipasti dishes, whether it’s a seafood salad with calamari, clams and shrimp or a tapenade made with olives and garlic. One of my favorites has been the roasted beet salad, in which chunks of the bright red vegetable are tossed with goat cheese and toasted pistachios, creamy and crunchy elements that add rich flavors as well as texture.

The end result had our forks reaching for more and more until the plate was empty all too quickly.

When I was growing up, Mom never roasted beets in the oven. Her preferred method of cooking them was to boil the beets shortly after she picked them from our backyard garden. Once they were tender enough to eat and peeled, you simply topped them with plenty of butter and salt. Nobody ever cared about the almost purple red juice that painted the rest of the food on the plate. Those beets upstaged the beef, the bread, the salad and anything else Mom might have served.

At the new Godai Sushi & Bistro, 4553 N. Loop 1604 W., the roasted beets are presented without butter but with duck fat in the dressing. And I guess I’ll just have to accept that fat substitution. It will be hard for me; maybe I should attempt to drown tradition in three or four helpings.

The salad features both red and gold beets, roasted to achieve perfect color, and arrives tossed with bit of goat cheese. That may sound familiar, but this is point where any similarity between this version and Weissman’s at Il Sogno ends.

Roasted red and gold beets are featured in the salad at Godai Sushi & Bistro.

Owner William “Goro” Pitchford and executive chef Chris Kidd add nuts, but in this case they are salty Marcona almonds and they are accompanied by golden raisins and caramelized onions. A honey-duck fat dressing finishes off the plate in manner that fills your mouth with what can best be described as an umami savoriness. (Umami is known as the fifth taste, and it usually signifies the richness certain dishes have that fills the entire mouth, a depth of flavor caused by glutamate, a naturally occurring substance in many foods. For more on umami, click here. Godai Sushi Bistro has an Umami section on its menu.)

All of the elements work like an orchestra performing under a master conductor. Yet the beets remain the star of the plate, their somewhat sweet flavor commanding your attention.

I couldn’t stop there, though. For my main course, I ordered the Buddha Cassoulet, a medley of roasted fresh vegetables tossed with edamame instead of the usual white beans. There were plenty of beets in this dish, too, making my taste buds extremely happy.

Another beet salad with checking out is the version often offered at Dough Pizzzeria Napoletana, 6989 Blanco Road. No duck fat here, just bacon. Just perfection in its way as the others are in theirs.

So, if you’re a beet fanatic in need of a fix, check out any of these salads. Just leave me a small taste.

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Roasted Beets With Anise, Cinnamon and Orange Juice


Beets and licorice? “The licorice flavor of the anise complements the earthy flavor of the beets, and the cinnamon and orange juice both highlight the natural sweetness of the beets,” write Dave Lieberman and Anahad O’Connor.

Roasted Beets With Anise, Cinnamon and Orange Juice

1 1/2 pounds beets, peeled, rinsed and cut into roughly 2-inch chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
3 large cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1/3 cup good-quality orange juice

[amazon-product]0061780278[/amazon-product]Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a roasting pan with a double layer of aluminum foil.

Toss beets, olive oil, salt, anise seeds, cinnamon sticks and orange juice together in the roasting pan and cover loosely with another piece of foil. Roast the beets, shaking a couple of times along the way, until fork-tender, about 45 minutes.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From “The 10 Foods You Should Eat” by Dave Lieberman and Anahad O’Connor

(Photo: Alistair Williamson)

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