Deep beets, part 2

So when we left off I was… beet-curious, we could say. Though I had enjoyed many a beet in the now-ubiquitous and standardized “salad” form with goat cheese and sometimes other accoutrements, I had never been totally romanced by it in that sort of arrangement. But that seemed to be the only way a gra could get her hands on it (short of a nice bowl of borscht, of course), at least until recently.

As many of the Chicago readers will know, it’s recently become Bike Season around here. Now, it’s important to note that the start of Bike Season is in no way synonymous with the start of Spring, though the two can coincide when the stars align, the gods smile, and everyone in the city wears their lucky underwear on exactly the same day. Or something. Anyway, Bike Season starts when everything that has fallen from the sky in the last 4-5 months – snow, sleet, ice, debris, street signs, stray gloves, the ever-present but no-less-inexplicable doll head or two, and apparently, as I noticed the other day, an apron – has melted and/or been washed away by That One Really Warm Day Where It Didn’t, Like, Snow or Anything the Very Next Day. You know that day: standing rivers of crap flank the sides of the streets and what stops you from being utterly repulsed is the fact that today promises the distinct possibility (though by no means inevitability) that you will be able to count on one hand the number of times you will wear your winter coat before retiring it FOREVER. (Okay, until October.) So, on this day, it’s possible to ride one’s bike footloose and fancy-free down the detritus-lined avenues without spattering (very much) of it all over one’s person.

Ah, Bike Season.
So anyway, after my (very deep) discussion with Kristy about the virtuous and colorful beet, it made sense to make a Spring(ish) pilgrimage to Trader Joe’s to track down these baby beets. There they were, in the fridge section, on the top shelf above the other vegetables, in an adorable little package. I batted one down into my basket, brought it home, and made that beet salad from the Minimalist video.
I agree with MB that the union of beets and goat cheese seems like it shouldn’t be something completely inescapable, though that’s the world we find ourselves in right now. I had seen beet salad on a few restaurant menus before I had ever tasted a beet and thought, “Man, beets must kind of suck if they need goat cheese to cover up them up.” It’s not that I don’t like goat cheese – in fact, I LOVE goat cheese (it was my first foray into the Realm of Fancy Cheeses back when I was a budding food geek) – but its flavor seems to me too different, and not in an interesting-flavor-foil kind of way, from that of beets for it to really appeal to me in that combination. It’s like whoever discovered beets caught that one fleeting note of sweetness, completely ignored the rich earthiness, and was like [caveman voice], “Goat cheese go with sweet things. Beet sweet. Beet go with goat cheese,” and no one had since thought to investigate further. (I am hoping you find this epicurean-caveman thing as funny as I do right now…)
Which is why I kind of swooned after trying the beet salad with garlic-walnut sauce. It’s amazing.
But I wanted to to roast my own beets and do my own thing with them, trying to see where else I could go with this earthy, deep flavor. I also liked the dense texture of the beet and wondered if it couldn’t be used in place of a starch in certain situations. And I also decided that I’d prefer my beets with some salty, earthy feta.
So then I wondered if I could go sort of Mediterranean with all this.
Then I thought of my love of stacked/piled food. (Sandwiches, peasant breakfast… sandwiches…)
Then I thought of napoleons. Originally a pretty French dessert (and named for our boy Bonaparte), I’ve seen savory napoleons here and there more recently. And really, it’s just a fancy way of saying you’ve made a Tasty Stack of Various Components, isn’t it?
So last Saturday I roasted some beets according to the method MB mentions in his recipe, and for which he credits Jean-Georges Vongerichten. I had a friend in town for the weekend so once the beets had cooled (still in their foil shells), I sealed them up in a bag and put them in the fridge until Monday.
Monday came; I dragged the beets out and got to work. It’s said that this method of roasting in individual foil packets creates almost no mess; this is true, but ONLY to the extent that you won’t have a roasting pan full of baked-on beet juice. Once they come out of the foil and you’ve got to slide those skins off (which actually really is as easy as they say), all bets are off: you are looking at about two days of rosy-fingered dawns.
I was okay with this; I figured it would be a badge of foodie honor.
Once I had peeled my beets (and eaten a few pieces that were, you know, just… too small to make a decent stack… or something. See photo), I cut them into 1/4-inch slices. Substantial but not unmanageable. Then, I sliced some cucumber relatively thinly and put a few pieces on each beet. Then, topped each stack with crumbled feta and cracked pepper. Squeezed down some lemon juice, drizzled some olive oil, and dug in.
(I ate one then remembered to take a photo. Selfish.)
I thought they were perfect. The beets were a really nice base, the feta, to me, tasted perfect (it was a more “ripe,” authentic Greek feta that I was using, though the drier kind would probably do nicely), and the cucumbers were a nice, fresh addition. It was a warm day, I was glad to actually want cold, crisp things again after months of… well, lots of soup.
(Speaking of which, I am obnoxiously reminding you to come to Soup & Bread tonight. The Hideout. 5-8pm. Eat up.)


  1. That sounds delicious. I have a beet and fennel salad recipe that you’d appreciate for its goat cheeselessness. It might be Bittman, I can’t remember. I think there’s maybe some sort of nut and a simple lemon-olive oil drizzle and then that’s that. Crunchy, earthy, yummy.

    So glad I found your blog, J. I think it’s cool we both ended up caring about food and wanting to write about it.

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