beets

Tackling Tradition: Winter Squash

At the start of Thanksgiving week, I sampled a holiday cocktail made of sweet potato pie at The Commoner bar. The mixologist piped sweet potato pie puree into the alcohol and played around with consistency and flavor. I sampled a near-final version, as she balanced the seasonings and sprinkled crushed nuts on top. A new drink was born!

The playfulness of taking a familiar dish and giving it new life appealed to me. For example, the roasted squash from a Thanksgiving meal can only be enjoyed so many times. However, when the squash is plated on a bed of semi-liquid beet topped with crunchy toasted coconut and crushed pistachio nuts, the savory side becomes a healthy dessert. Winter squash and beets have mellow flavors, which make them both versatile and boring. Squash can be sautéed with spices, absorbing the aromatics readily, but the mild taste never quite beckons for our attention. Combining roasted squash with beets repurposes a traditional dish with texture, and has the added bonus of showcasing colors of the season.

 

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Learning a trick or two

I was taught to re-purpose things, and I hopefully have passed that message on to A. and N. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn a trick or two in NYC, serving as reminders that just about anything can be salvaged and made fresh again. Although I saw two impressive installations of reprocessed everyday items (Ingo Maurer’s elegant chandelier made from broken white plates and ceramic kettles and Xu Bing’s rising phoenix assembled from remnants of  industrialized waste), it was the creative takes on food that inspired me to experiment in the kitchen when I returned home.

I normally discard broccoli stems as I dislike their woody, fibrous taste. Yet, I happily ate a plateful of Chinese broccoli stems at Red Farm. When I decided to give broccoli stems another chance at home, I began by peeling the tough outermost layer to reveal a soft, slightly sweet inner core. I cut the stem on the diagonal, and after eating some raw, I steamed the rest for a couple of minutes (my advice on using a colander as a steamer can be found here). The cooked stems can be dressed up with your favorite vinaigrette or light soy sauce to make a quick veggie side. The dish was both visually attractive as well as light on the palate.

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I love eggs, especially when they retain both shape and texture of the white and yolk! I was delighted to see that a house specialty at Red Rooster Harlem was devilled (also known as deviled or stuffed) eggs, a dish that seems to ride in and out of fashion. Deviled eggs are shelled, hard-boiled eggs that are sliced in half; the yolk is removed and combined with mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper, mixed to a creamy-smooth consistency and reassembled back. The eggs are often dusted with paprika or decorated with a piece of anchovy or finely chopped red pepper. At Red Rooster, the yolk is mixed with a spicy chicken skin mayonnaise and served with crispy leaves on the side. Devilled eggs could also be spiced up with fried green chilies, ginger, tomatoes, and fresh cilantro leaves, or served with crunchy, baked kale leaves to balance the velvety smoothness of the creamy yolk and the bite of kale for a more filling brunch.

In keeping with color-themed restaurants, Blue Hill served the most amazing beet burger as an amuse-bouche. The “burger” consisted of whipped beet puree placed between two minuscule halves of almond bread. When I experimented with beets at home, I began by roasting beets (recipe here). Grate the roasted or boiled beet in a food processor or with a grater. Season the grated beets with salt and pepper. Shape a small amount of grated beet such that it sits compactly in a toasted brioche or slider roll, or on open-face toasted rounds. Top the beets with goat cheese and a red onion ring for a crunch.

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Underappreciated Winter Vegetables

A recent Downton Abbey episode mentions vichyssoise, a leek and potato soup that is served cold and was made famous in 1917 by a French chef at New York’s Ritz-Carlton. Beetroots, leeks and Brussels sprouts, it seems, have shed their boring image and resurfaced as healthy and easy-to-prepare vegetables. Thank goodness for that!  I have roasted beets and broiled Brussels sprouts for the past few months – easy ways to incorporate vegetables as part of the main meal or as a side dish.

Beets: Cut the leafy stalks to about 3-inches above the root and discard or use the stalks to make vegetable stock. Rinse the root and remove any grit attached to it. Place the beet on aluminum foil. Roast or bake at 350°F for one to two hours depending on the size of the beets. The beet is cooked when a fork goes through it easily. Peel the skin off. Roasted beets can be eaten on their own, with goat cheese, or can serve as a nutritious pop of color in a green salad.

Brussels sprouts: Remove one or two of the outer layers. Using a paring knife, slice the sprouts thinly. Mix with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the sprouts on an aluminum foil and broil on high for 2-4 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully flip over the sliced sprouts. Put them back in the oven to broil for another minute or two. Some of the leaves will be crispier than others, which adds a nice crunch when they are tossed and mixed together.

Leeks: A. stated that I omitted to mention the easy way to clean leeks. At Thanksgiving, her aunt had shown us how to do so – with a far easier way than what I had been doing for years! Leeks often have mud and grit, acquired during their growth, embedded between the outer dark-green leaves.

  • After trimming the roots near the white base, remove any outer leaves that are damaged or tough.
  • Use a sharp knife to cut a slit through the interwoven leaves as shown in the video. Hold the leek under the faucet and let the water run through the slit, slightly fanning the leaves out so the dirt washes away.

Leeks are members of the onion family, but instead of the growing into a tight bulb like the onion, the leek bulb grows into a long, elongated shaft of interwoven leaves. The usable part above the roots is the white base, the inner light-green leaves, and the outer, dark-green ones.

Leeks can replace onion or garlic in a stir-fry dish or omelet. Alternatively, pair with sliced potatoes, Swiss cheese, cream, and chopped chives and bake for 45 minutes at 350°F.