When was the last time you evaluated your beet relationship? I conduct a yearly performance review, and I have to confess: the vegetable does pretty well in my many rounds of testing despite being socially inept. You can't ace everything. This turns out to be A-ok, as I have a special place in my heart for wallflowers, especially those who come dressed to party -- how Rainbow Brite-esque beets are!
Maybe you've never tried a beet because you've been warned that they are absolutely dreadful, or perhaps you love them and eat as much borscht and beet hummus as you can get your spindly fingers on. I have to say, I grew up believing beets came in one format: pickles. Bright, fuschia pieces in mason jars forked on glass plates for special dinners. Although I knew pickles and cucumbers were one in the same, I never gave much thought to beets. Beets only came in pickle form, no? I liked them well enough I suppose, but perhaps only because no one was ever there to provide contradictory information. Oh, beets! someone might say, and so I grew up believing beets were in fact a good thing, like dill pickles or olives. Had I known the reality, I might have crossed them off my to-do list a long, long time ago and that would have been the end of it. But as it came to pass, I fell in like, and never gave another thought to it. I liked pickled beets, and it was decided that this was good.
My mom never cooked with them otherwise and I didn't have much exposure to them until my first year of grad school, when I spotted them at the farmer's market, breathed a sigh, and embraced it: beets. Yes.
Beets can be a real pain in the rear. Unlike Montmorency cherries or blood oranges or just about anything else on this site, I'm not about to wax on about the wonders of beets. They're usually filthy things, covered in mud, and take foooo-re-ver to fully cook. Yes, that long -- foooo-re-ver. They also have a tendency to dye just about anything in their wake a beautiful purple, which is generally lovely but is sometimes hell to a dishwasher (you're looking at her.) Often beets are paired with goat cheese, which is nice but, I think, overdone, and sometimes they are pureed and made into a pasta sauce. I've seen them used to make red velvet cupcakes naturally, and certainly they are tasty if prepared properly, but my favourite way is in a salad. Yes, a salad. And my favourite beet -- oh, the varieties! -- is the baby candy cane. She's a heartbreaker who'll make your heart skip a...do I really need to finish this sentence? This is probably why beets are real loners: they inspire people to say the corniest things, really, they do. I can't be held accountable for any tacky lines that escape my lips in the days to follow. I'm warning you now, so take note to avoid me. Unless you come bringing blood oranges. Then by all means, stop on by and I'll find it in me to keep a tight lid on my beet-tipped talk.
It was a productive Monday night when this slaw came to mind, and what a slaw it is. It's beautiful and refreshing, and tastes nothing of bland winter vegetables. It is the salad for beet-lovers and beet-haters alike, those who embrace the changing seasons or curse the sub-below temperatures and ache for spring. Trust me that if you hum "Beat it, just beat it" as you grate the vegetables, your salad basically makes itself. Its beautiful stripes, the red and the orange exterior, and the very sweet, mild-tasting flesh -- the beet make an excellent contribution to this recipe. I'm eating a bowl of this salad accompanied by a sizzlin' hot bowl of sweet potato and red lentil soup for lunch this week. You could do the same and we could be twins -- twins with orange insides, if anyone were to open us up and examine us, give our organs a performance review.
Yields about 8 servings
1/2 celery root, peeled and grated
6 candy cane beets (about 1lb), washed well and grated
2 pears, grated
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
Feta cheese (optional)
1/4 - 1/2 cup good-quality balsamic vinegar
1/4 - 1/2 cup walnut oil (or substitute a fruity extra-virgin olive oil)
Salt, to taste
Combine celery root, beets, pears, pumpkin seeds and walnuts in a bowl and toss with a fork to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk vinegar with oil to emulsify and salt to taste. How much oil and vinegar you use will depend on personal preference, but for reference I used 1/2 cup vinegar to 1/4 cup oil. My vinegar is also particularly sweet and tart, and I happen to enjoy acidic dresings, so you might prefer a 50/50 ratio.
Garnish with feta, if desired.