Saturday, January 23, 2010

Just Beet It: Cook Red-Handed

"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." - Tom Robbins

I used to hate beets, or so I thought. As it turns out, I hated the way my mom used to make them - boiled and mashed with mayo. Not exactly appetizing eh? It wasn't my mom's fault, she had never had them any other way.

I was always dismayed that I did not like beets, after all, they are quite good for you. The pigment that gives beets their beautiful colour is called betacyanin, and it is a potent cancer fighter. They also protect against heart disease and reduce inflammation. Beets are an excellent source of folate, which is essential for normal spinal cord development in fetuses. Without enough folate in the mother's diet, birth defects can occur. All around, beets are our friends.

Factoid: Some people are unable to break down betacyanin resulting in bright red urine after eating beets, so if this happens to you, don't be alarmed!

One day while at a salad bar, I spotted some pickled beets. Feeling adventurous, I put a few slices on my plate, returned to my table, and took a tentative bite. I was surprised to find that not only was I not spitting it out in disgust, but in fact, found myself wishing I had picked up more than two slices. They were really good!

It was several months after my revelation before I attempted to make beets for myself. I decided to play it safe and put them in a salad, to be featured in next week's Salad Challenge! This week, however, I was feeling bolder. Bold enough to try some new recipes, even, recipes that have in the past frightened me. One such recipe is Borscht.

Borscht is a traditional Ukrainian soup, popular throughout eastern Europe. With beets as their key ingredient, it has a characteristic deep red colour. It is a classic, iconic dish, and a must-try for a soup enthusiast such as myself. So after scouring the internet and cookbooks, I came up with my own version of Borscht.

Beetiful Borscht
1 beet, peeled & grated
1 carrot, peeled & grated
1 medium potato, peeled & diced
1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 roma tomato, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp parsley

In your soup pot, saute onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil until soft. Add all other ingredients. Simmer until everything is happy, bright red, and soft. Many recipes I came across called for topping it with some sour cream and dill, so if you have any vegan sour cream like substance, toss a dollop on top, and sprinkle on some dill for an elegant colour contrast.

And the verdict? I actually quite liked it! Despite it's bold appearance, the flavour of the soup is quite unassuming. As it turns out, the beet's bark is bolder than its bite. It wasn't one of my favourite soups, but I will definitely make it again!

1 comment:

  1. I think it's so funny when a childhood experience ruins a food. My grade 2 teacher forced her class to try an avocado, and I was convinced I hated avocados until I tried guacamole in my early 20s!! Now... I love avocados.
    As for beets, my dad used to maintain a massive veggie garden, and beets were one of the most productive veggies. My family boils them, then chops 'em up and serves them in a bowl with lots of white vinegar, some salt, and pepper. Pretty similar to pickling, I guess, but warm and it doesn't have so much time to soak in the vinegar.
    Side-bar: On the Peru field course, we were fed diced cold beets smothered in mayo. I thought it was just a Peruvian thing... :)