As I sit here typing I am am amazed that it’s already September. How did the time zip by so fast? I had all good intentions for the summer of working on my web site, blog and files. Generally speaking I tend to slow down over the summer. Many of my clients go away leaving to me own devices. With the exception of a week in Fire Island and Amagansett I haven’t really stopped working. Evidenced by my last post here on Father’s day. Busy is always good for a chef, so no complaints on my part.
What I have done with perfect regularity is make my weekly trek up to Hilltop Hanover Farm. Up and back it takes me about 90 minutes, and probably the best part of my week. The anticipation of what vegetables will be on the tables, and what I will do with them, is very exciting. This week especially. After gathering up my ingredients I stopped to say hello to Michelle, the CSA and wholesale farmer, and asked what she thought next week would hold. I wanted to create something that she could share with the other visitors to the farm. “Lots of beets” she said and offered a little tip: she likes to cook rice with the beet juice to make it pink. And so the tiny seed of an idea took root on my drive home!
Beets usually illicit a strong response – people either love them or hate them. I generally find it a challenge to turn people on that are haters. Cooked a particular way, the earthy flavor can be sweetened and subdued. So why eat them? Well, they have some pretty stellar qualities that can’t be beat: they are an excellent source of folate and manganese, and have cardiovascular-stregnthening properties. If the leaves are fresh and intact they are edible and quite tasty lightly sautéed.
Beets can be cooked in a variety of ways, but mainly either boiled or roasted. Usually when I cook beets I leave the skin on them, but for this new recipe they are peeled. Fret not, any nutrients leaving your beet will be captured in the water we use for the rice. Another cooking tip: when boiling add equal amounts of salt and sugar to the cooking water. That will help balance the “earthy” flavor some dislike.
While the beets are cooking get yourself busy chopping the stems, leaves and shallots. We are going to use the entire plant. It’s all edible, if nice and fresh.
Give the stems a little sauté to soften before you add the rice and beet liquid.
While the rice is cooking you want to dice the cooled beets. A word to the wise: make sure you are using gloves! Otherwise you will have pretty pink hands. As a time saver I used my egg slicer which frankly was a brilliant idea. The dice was nice and small, and pretty much disappeared into the overall salad.
Always looking for a new twist I decided to see what would happen if I added blackberries. Amazing! The tart berry more than compliments the sweet and earthy beet, and the rice holds it all together. I had some hazelnuts and added that too, though I am sure chèvre would also be an excellent addition.
So this weekend don’t walk by that little bunch of beets … pick them up and give this recipe a try. I liked it room temperature just after cooking, but honestly it rocked the next day as a chilled side dish.
Beet and Blackberry Rice Salad
Don’t let the list of steps dissuade you of trying this recipe. Believe it or not, it can be done in under and hour – and is quite delicious!
1 bunch of red beets, 5 with green tops (see note)
Demerara (raw) sugar (see note)
¼ cup small-diced shallot, 1 big or 2-3 small
Avocado or canola oil
Ground black pepper
¾ cup rice of your choice, I used Carolina
½ pint blackberries
Zest and juice of 1 big lemon
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish
¼ cup chopped hazelnuts, optional
1. Remove the stems from the beets right at the edge of the beet and set aside. Using gloves peel the beets and wash well. Place in a small pot and cover with 2 cups of cold water and 2 teaspoons each of sugar and salt. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to an active simmer, cover and set your timer for 20 minutes.
2. Wash the leaves and stems well. Remove the leaf at the top of the stem and set aside. With a sharp knife finely slice the stems starting at the leaf end and continue until you have about ½ cup. You will most likely be slicing about 2-3” down. Discard the rest. Set the stems aside with the diced shallot.
3. Take the leaves and roll them like a fat cigar and slice them thinly. If some of the leaves are really big slice them in half lengthwise first.
4. In a small saute pan or saucier pan, over medium low heat saute the shallot and stems with 2 tablespoons of oil and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the leaves and cook another minute just to wilt them. Turn off the heat until you are ready to cook the rice.
5. The beets will be done when you can insert a thin paring knife and it comes out easily. If the beets are on the small size that will be about 20 minutes. Carefully remove them to a glass bowl or plastic cutting board.
6. Place the shallot-stem mix back on the heat and add the correct amount of beet liquid (following your package instructions) for ¾ cup of rice. Bring to a boil, add the rice, and ½ teaspoon each of salt and sugar, cover and cook as noted. Save the remaining beet water in case you need a little more later on.
7. While the rice cooks dice the beets very small. I used an egg slicer, which worked beautifully. Remember to put your gloves back on! Set them aside in a glass bowl. Slice the blackberries in half or thirds if large and set aside.
8. Make vinaigrette with the zest and juice of the lemon, whisking in oil, salt and pepper to taste. Set that aside.
9. Once the rice is cooked remove to a large bowl and let it cool for a few minutes. Just a fork to separate the rice and leaves. Add the beets and vinaigrette and mix with a large spoon. Add the blackberries and mint and fold in carefully, then add the hazelnuts if using. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper as needed
10. Garnish with additional mint and hazelnuts and serve room temperature or cold.
• Unless you fancy red fingers be sure to use gloves when handling the beets!
• Normally I would cook the beets with the skin on, but you want to use the liquid to cook the rice. Peeling gives you cleaner liquid to use, and any nutrients leaving the beets to the water will be picked back up in the rice.
• Try to use brown raw sugar if possible, rather than the refined white variety.
• Make this the night before and serve it the next day at your outdoor barbeque. The blackberry balances the earthy beets and leaves a marvelously wonderful flavor, not to mention the beets work up an intensely beautiful garnet color to the salad.