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Don’t fight the beet

| 07 May 2013 | 04:24

We’re all guilty of camouflaging certain less desirable veggies, delegating them to a side dish or even plotting to transform their flavor and texture. I’m guilty of adding pureed fava beans to soup, mashing just a few florets of cauliflower with potatoes or pureeing kale into a morning smoothie. I’ve even grated beets into chocolate batter, fashioning red velvet cake without the food coloring. But there are times when a vegetable like a beet should be allowed to stand on its own merit.

Some resist beets – I’m not sure why. Many of us who grew up observing jars of Manischewitz borscht (beet soup) languishing in the fridge next to the schav (sorrel soup) are reluctant to revisit them. For some naysayers it’s the unmistakable aroma of dirt. My daughter Sarah, a beet lover, describes the odor as sweet, earthy goodness.

Sarah’s favorite dish of cubed beets with orange segments is the inspiration for this roasted beet salad. Black dirt beets, in vibrant red, orange and gold are making their debut. Scrub them well, leave an inch or two of the stem intact and wrap whole unpeeled beets with fresh herbs in aluminum foil packets and roast until fork tender. Roasting the beets tames the sweetness a bit. Once cool, the skins slip off easily –don’t worry, the red stains on your fingers will wash off. Slice the beets vertically to reveal the circular pattern and scatter amongst leaves of baby spinach, arugula and flat leaf parsley. Remember to reserve the tender beet greens. I added mine to the salad, but you can sauté them later with a teaspoon of good oil and thinly sliced garlic.

Whole grains add texture, nuttiness and extra nutrition to a salad. I chose forbidden rice for its high level of anthocyanin antioxidants and deep purple-black hue, a contrast to the colorful beets. Dress the salad with a simple orange vinaigrette.

Beets will be harvested until late fall, offering ample opportunities to take on a supporting role. But this is opening season and their chance at culinary stardom is in your red-stained hands.