Holiday beet-down

Getting to the root of a cold-weather staple

Credit: Ari LeVaux

At the winter farmers market, I saw the most enormous beets. Larger than softballs, a bag of six went for five bucks. The growers are from Belarus. She is as sweet as the virgin Mary. He is a welder, with a handshake that could crush golf balls. Feeling goofy with holiday cheer, I had to jest. “Do you have any beets that are, like, bigger?” I asked, holding my hands apart to demonstrate big.  

His windblown cheeks turned full crimson as he squinted, pondering if he should take offense. I broke the tension with a laugh. He punched me in the shoulder. Ouch. 

I asked how they liked to eat beets. He leaned in conspiratorially. “Grated,” he said, gesticulating as much, “with Italian dressing.” He kissed his fingertips. 

She gave me a recipe I have come to call Christmas Sweater, because it’s busy and goes with everything. Consisting of cubed beets, carrots, potatoes, onions and pickles, it’s both a side and condiment. 

As for those grated raw beets, I was surprised how palatable they are. Mixed with Italian dressing is indeed finger-kissing good, though I prefer it tossed with olive oil, salt, white and red balsamic, and topped with goat cheese. 

But perhaps my favorite thing of all to do with grated beets is fry them into pancakes, like a beet-based version of the potato latkes my Jewish mom would serve for Chanukah. The beets melt into a sweet, savory brown mouthful that will leave you wanting more. 

Next time you come across a big ole bag o’ beets, you know what to do. As you would expect in something high in sugar that tastes like earth, beets will keep you grounded and going for the holidays and beyond. 

Beet Latkes 
Serves 2

1 egg
2 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup coarsely grated beet
¼ teaspoon of salt
Dashes of pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon EVOO

Garnish: fresh dill and sour cream or mayo

. . .

Beat the egg and milk, preferably with an egg beater. Add the flour and beat again. Add the grated beets along with the salt and pepper. Mix well and let it sit for 15 minutes. 

Heat the oil and butter in a pan on medium. When it’s hot enough to sizzle, add golf ball-sized glops, and press them into sub-inch tall pancakes, far enough away from one another that they don’t touch. After about five minutes, flip them. When nicely browned on both sides, serve with dill and your choice of crème. 

Christmas Sweater 
Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main

2 half-pound potatoes, peeled and cut in half
1 pound beets, peeled 
1 pound carrots, peeled
1 medium onion
2 cups dill pickles
½ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

. . .

Steam the potatoes until soft on the outside with just a bit of lingering stiffness in the middle, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350, and peel and cube the veggies as perfectly as possible. Do the beets last, as you will need to wash the cutting board immediately.

Here’s my advice for the perfect cubed veggies: Whether it’s an onion, potato, pickle, carrot or beet, start by cutting it in half lengthwise and lay the flat sides down (carrots you can cut down to four-inch lengths). Slicing straight down, cut off the tops and bottoms, then turn the knife 90 degrees and make a series of parallel cuts about ¼-inch apart along the top-to-bottom axes. Turn each newly sliced half 90 degrees, and make another series of crisp, ¼-inch cuts. 

The next part is tricky because it wants to fall apart. Try to pull apart each twice-sliced half, like “cutting” a deck of cards, and roll sideways onto the cutting board so you can cut perfect cubes. If it all falls apart, just do the best you can.  

Bake the cubed beets and carrots in separate dishes for about a half-hour, stirring each pan once (with separate implements) until they are a little soft and a little crunchy. Allow them to cool to room temperature. 

When everything is cool, cubed and cute, gently toss everything together, minus the beets, along with the salt and oil. Taste and adjust the seasonings, then gently toss in the beets and serve. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here