I’ve planted beets three times so far this season, once in April and twice in May and will do one more planting soon to take us into fall and winter. Because there are so many creative and tasty ways to prepare beets, I like to have a supply for each season. This year I grew a red, Kestrel, and a yellow, Touchstone Gold, for spring and summer beets and I may just plant the same two for fall and winter. Kestrel is a dark red beet with an earthy beet flavor and dense texture; Touchstone Gold has a slightly more delicate beet flavor and more tender flesh. In addition to their contrasting flavors and textures, their colors make a lovely pairing on the plate.
I’ve already harvested and cooked the last of the April planting and the first May planting is ready. With this summer abundance of sweet, colorful beets I’ve been making salads. If I have cooked beets on hand, I’ll add them to greens or to carrots or fennel for a vegetable salad but for something even speedier, I’ll grate raw beets to add to salad greens or to serve on their own. I use a box grater or the julienne blade on the Cuisinart. The crisp shreds of raw beets are a nice change from the softer, denser texture of cooked beets and the sharpness of vinegar or citrus in the dressing balances the heavily sweet flavor of beets.
So many flavors go well with beets and salad dressings and vinaigrettes take advantage of this versatility. The other night I added mustard vinaigrette to shredded yellow beets and used them to garnish cooked red beets.
Another night, I made the Grated Raw Beet Salad with Star Anise from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy. Star anise flavors the cider vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette and whole anise seeds mix into the grated beets. I also added some fresh anise hyssop leaves and blossoms. All these anise flavors add a spicier sweetness to the solid sweetness of beets.
Grated Raw Beet Salad with Star Anise
from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy (2013)
12 to 16 ounces beets
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or aged red wine vinegar
1 small onion or large shallot, finely diced
2 pinched brown or white sugar
½ teaspoon powdered star anise
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ teaspoon anise seeds
Peel the beets with a paring knife or vegetable peeler unless the skins are clean and fresh. Grate on the large holes of a box grater and transfer the shreds to a bowl. (If using red beets with other colors, wait to add them as they stain the whole salad red.) Combine the vinegar with ¼ teaspoon salt, onion, sugar, star anise, and olive oil. Mix, let stand for several minutes to dissolve the salt and sugar, then pour the dressing over the beets and toss with the anise seeds. Chill well. Taste for salt. When serving the beets, pick up the shreds with a pair of tongs and let the juice flow back into the bowl.
Citrus provides more contrast with the beet sweetness. This 2010 recipe for Grated Raw Beet Salad from Martha Rose Shulman is quick and delicious. Fresh ginger or ground cumin are also good additions to this dressing. To take to a dinner party, I made one salad with red beets and another with yellow and added them to a platter of roasted zucchini and the last of the sugar snap peas. Pretty and fast.
And for one more treat with grated beets I made Nigel Slater’s grated beets and ground lamb burgers. The burgers were moist, as Slater promised, and especially flavorful, smelling wonderful as they grilled and tasting even better. The yogurt sauce added a touch of acidity to balance the sweet lamb and sweet beets. I didn’t go so far as to serve grated beet salad with these beet and lamb burgers but maybe next time. There are still beets in the kitchen garden.
Grated Beets and Ground Lamb Burgers
from Nigel Salter, Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch (2009)
Fine or medium cracked wheat – ½ cup
Raw beets – 9 ounces
A small or medium onion
Ground lamb – a pound
Garlic – two large cloves, crushed
Chopped dill – 2 heaping tablespoons
Parsley – a small handful, chopped
Put the cracked wheat in a bowl, pour over enough boiling water to cover, then set aside to swell. (I used already cooked cracked emmer farro.)
Peel the beets and onion and grate them coarsely into a large bowl. Add the ground lamb, garlic, dill, parsley, and a generous grinding of salt and black pepper.
Squeeze any water from the cracked wheat with your hands and add to the meat. Mix everything together thoroughly, then form the mixture into patties. Chill for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat a nonstick pan, brush the patties with a little peanut oil, and fry until golden on both sides. Once they are lightly browned on both sides, carefully lift them into a baking dish and finish in a hot oven for fifteen to twenty minutes. Incidentally, you can only tell if they are done by tasting one, as the beets give them a rich red color, making it impossible to gauge by sight whether they are cooked. (Instead of using this cooking technique, we grilled them on the gas barbeque.)
Cucumber – a bout a third of a medium one
Mint – leaves from 4 or 5 springs, chopped
Capers – a tablespoon
Yogurt – ¾ cup
Make the dressing by grating the cucumber coarsely and leaving it in a colander, lightly sprinkled with salt, for half an hour. Squeeze it dry, then mix it with the chopped mint, capers, and yogurt. Season to taste with salt and pepper.