Veggies

Carrots and beets are main ingredients for Kremlin Salad, a nutrition-packed side dish enjoyed by elderly statesmen in Russia. Marion Owen photo.

Late summer can be a crazy time of year for local gardeners. The harvesting of salad greens, herbs, broccoli, cabbage, garlic and kale is now joined by root crops like onions, carrots and beets. It’s a nutrition fest, said one grower.

Now using carrots is fairly straightforward. From cakes and stir-fry dishes, to salads and muffins, carrots are — across the board — one of the most versatile veggies on the planet.

But beets, not so much. (I grew up thinking they tasted like purple dirt). What if you end up with an abundance of beets in your garden or grocery cart (couldn’t resist that sale, could you?), and now you’re wondering what to do next.

Most people, even beet snobs, like to pickle beets, and lots of them. In Australia and New Zealand, a slice or two of the raw red root dresses up a hamburger. And a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dish is red beet eggs where hard-boiled eggs are refrigerated in the liquid left over from pickling beets and allowed to marinate until the eggs turn a deep pink-red color.

If you’re Napoleon, you’re fascinated by beets and open schools specifically for studying the plant. I must say, though, the most interesting use of beets I’ve come across lately is in Kremlin Salad.

“The name is actually a national joke,” says Natasha, a friend who grew up in the Soviet Union. “It’s a joke because the average age of the members of the Politburo was between 80 and 90. Rumor had it that the men ate it every day to help with digestion and, well, you know.

“The recipe,” she adds, “calls for raw beets, carrots, daikon radish, apples and cilantro, all of which contributed to colonic motility which presumably would help the health of the nation's rulers!”

Here’s the recipe:

Kremlin Salad

Beets

Carrots

Daikon radish (or similar mild radish or turnip such as “Hakurei”)

Apples (Fuji, Granny Smith are good)

Cilantro (coriander leaf)

Oil and vinegar (or lemon juice)

Salt

Wash and peel beets, carrots and radish. Grate equal amounts of these three vegetables and set aside in a bowl. Chop apple and some cilantro and add it to the beet mixture. Toss with a little oil, vinegar and salt. Chill.

All joking aside, Kremlin Salad is a prime example of a nutrition fest. Such a nutrition-packed recipe reminds me of a conversation I had at our breakfast table a few years ago with John, a B&B guest who was a sales rep for Eli Lilly and Co., an American global pharmaceutical company.

At one point we gravitated from bears and puffins to diet and diabetes.

“I sell drugs,” he said casually. “But as far as our national health problems go, it’s not just the food companies’ fault. We all own it.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“We Americans don’t like to hear bad news,” he continued. “That’s why we resist taking responsibility for our health. Exercise and diet? We want a quick fix and taking up exercise and changing one’s diet is too hard. Takes too much work.”

Then John touched upon that all-encompassing aspect of life that everyone is reaching for: happiness.

“We think that taking responsibility for our health, doing something about it in the form of watching what we eat, getting exercise somehow takes away from our happiness, when in fact, it secures happiness with good health.”

Back to beets, here’s another salad recipe. It’s quite forgiving, in that exact amounts aren’t critical. The almonds add an extra crunch and … nutrition.

Beet Salad with Almonds and Chives

1-1/2 pounds beets

1/4 cup slivered almonds, roasted

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives or green onions

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Place beets in a medium pot and cover with water. Cover, bring to a boil, and cook 15 to 25 minutes, until a beet is easily pierced with a fork. Drain, let cool, and use a paring knife or fingers to slide off skins.

Cut beets into bite-sized pieces and place in a large salad bowl. Add almonds, olive oil, chives, lemon juice and salt, and toss gently. Sprinkle with feta, sprinkle with chives and serve.

May the beet go on! 

To connect with local gardeners and growers, visit the Kodiak Growers Facebook page and local farmers’ markets. To contact Marion, send her an email (mygarden@alaska.net), or head over to Facebook, Instagram at marion_owen_photography.com or her blog at marionowen.wordpress.com. Or pick up the phone, 907-486-5079.

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