Which scorned salad came first? Beet or kale? I can no longer recall. It seems that both have been with us always, though I can vividly remember times when no sane person would ever admit to liking either.
That’s how fast food fashion changes these days. At one moment, you’re the star of every menu in town. Then before you know it, you’ve become a cliché. But it’s important to keep a perspective that is a little bit longer than what’s trending on Twitter.
Certainly, beet salads no longer have the ability to shock us the way they once did — but good is good and a well-prepared beet salad is great.
Beets, which once could only be found in Harvard red, now can be bought in deep gold, white, even bull's-eye stripes. The differences are basically decorative — all varieties taste pretty much the same. They’re sweet and earthy with a slight tannic finish like spinach.
(Fun fact: that distinctive earthy flavor comes from a naturally occurring chemical compound called geosmin, which is also a contributing factor in petrichor — the smell in the air after a good rain. Far less pleasant, it also contributes to that muddy flavor in badly farmed fish such as tilapia and striped bass.)
All beets can be prepared the same, simple way. Trim the leaves leaving an inch or so of stem (save the greens and stems; they’re delicious, too). Give the beets a good scrub (particularly around the bases of the stems, where cracks tend to collect dirt). Don’t trim the long taproot at the base — the beet will bleed juice.
Too cook them, just wrap a bunch of them in foil and roast on a baking sheet at 400 degrees. They’re done when a paring knife slides in easily, about an hour.
Let the beets cool slightly before peeling the skins away with your fingers. They’ll just slip right off. Pro Tip: Work on a surface that’s easily cleanable; there are few things in the food world that will stain like red beet juice.
Once the beets are prepared, you can make a salad with almost anything you can find in the refrigerator.
You can make it with all kinds of cheeses – it’s equally good with creamy burrata, salty ricotta salata or blue, or, of course, goat cheese. You can pair it with a crisp bitter green like radicchio, tender butter lettuce or sweet slices of oranges. Top it with toasted nuts or croutons. It’s all good.
Don’t believe me? Here are a dozen beet recipes -- salads and not -- to get you started.
How to choose: The key to selecting the best beets is to look at the tops, not the roots. The tops will start to wilt and fade long before the roots show any trouble at all. Look for greens that are crisp and vibrant. Only then should you check to make sure there are no nicks or cuts on the roots.
How to store: Beets keep well – just stick them in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.