I was an older teenager by the time I finally ate a freshly cooked beet. Until then, I admit to liking canned beets. They were so absurdly magenta, and they were slightly sweet, slightly tangy. I have a sweet tooth, so this appealed to me. Then one day my mom and I cooked up some real beets– and we gobbled them up so ravenously that we were convinced beets must have some nutrient our bodies were absolutely jonesing for. I remember making rice with the water I’d used to boil the beets– hot pink rice!
Now I make beets whenever I see them at Whole Foods– organic only, thank you, since they are embedded in dirt– or better yet, when they come in my CSA box. My husband and I have always eaten a lot of vegetables, but since we signed up for a CSA box we’ve been even better about it, exploring vegetables we aren’t used to cooking. Somehow, the idea that it’s locally grown is even more appealing than being organically grown. Why is that? It’s not even about my carbon footprint or whatever. It’s just tasty, and it feels healthy. Also: cheaper! Try buying three bunches of beets, bok choi, two rainbow chards, four organic Fuji apples, a bunch of green beans, and three bunches of lacinato kale for less than $18, which is what we pay for our box.
Anyway, what I’m supposed to be writing about are beets.
When I first met my husband, his extended family would go every Sunday to Estrada’s, which was one of those Old Fresno places. They had a hot tostada salad that would come sizzling on a cast iron skillet. Sizzling iceberg lettuce is a thing to behold. And their macaroni and cheese had olives in it– weird but tasty. His family was so large that even my soon-to-be father-in-law had trouble identifying everyone, and once he asked me who so-and-so was at the other end of the table! And I’d only been dating his son for, like, a minute!
The patriarch of the whole bunch hated beets, which came with all the salads. I think he’d once had some competition with a sugar beet farmer or something, so it wasn’t so much the beets themselves he despised but what the beets reminded him of. So every week, as things were passed along like guacamole or salt or chips, also a side plate of the beets off his salad would also make their way to me. They were canned, but I didn’t care because I liked them and I thought of it as an affectionate gesture.
But this past week we got three beet bunches (some standard pink and some Italian candy stripes) and so I made them my favorite way– which is no longer boiling.
1 big bunch or two smaller bunches of beets, complete with stems and leaves
–Cut the stems and leaves from the beets
–Vigorously wash the beets. Cut off the rat-tail roots and the part where the stems sprout out of the beet. Throw those parts away. The rat-tails are too tough and the starts of the stems have too much dirt to wash away adequately.
–Cut the beets into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Put them in a roasting pan.
–Wash the leaves and stems well. They tend to keep a lot of dirt, so rinse, rinse, rinse! Shake them dry, then put them in the roasting pan, too. Only cut them if they are HUGE.
–Drizzle olive oil over everything. Sprinkle salt. Dust very lightly with garlic powder. You can use chopped garlic but I don’t think it comes out as well and sometimes the garlic burns. Use tongs to stir it all about in the pan, coating everything fairly evenly.
–Pop into a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until you taste a beet and it’s done. The leaves turn out semi-crispy, almost like kale chips. The whole thing looks like you are eating a forest floor! I think it’s really pretty, and it barely makes it from the roasting pan to the table.