Here we are, creeping toward winter, with our heels dug in. Containers of calendula and nasturtiums (wilted from last week’s frost) linger on front porches and I’m sure a few hoses and lawn mowers haven’t been put away yet. This is the time of year when vegetable gardeners take it day by day, leaving carrots and beets in the ground until the last possible moment.
Eventually, though, everything gets pulled. Cabbages, Brussels sprouts, kale, beets, carrots and potatoes will be either dried, frozen, canned, pickled or stored in some way. Easy, right? But what if you end up with an abundance of, say, beets and you’re wondering what to do next.
Most people, especially in the South, like to pickle beets, lots of them. In Australia and New Zealand, a slice or two of the 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 joke,” said my friend Natasha, 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 they ate it every day. So the ingredients — raw beets, carrots, daikon radish, apples, cilantro — all contributed to colonic motility which presumably would help the health of the nation’s rulers.”
All joking aside, Kremlin salad, or whatever you want to call it, deserves to be added to your recipe files.
Daikon radish (or similar mild radish or turnip such as Hakurei)
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.
Perhaps one of the prettiest beets is the Chioggia, an open-pollinated variety originally grown in Italy. The concentric rings of its red and white roots are visually striking when sliced and cut into matchsticks. Toss them on salad greens for a candy-cane effect.
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 and/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.
Red borscht soup
There are many variations on the borscht theme, but this one is particularly fine. You can make this vegetarian style by omitting the sausage.
1 (16-ounce) package pork sausage
3 medium beets, peeled and shredded
3 carrots, peeled and shredded
3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 cup water
1/2 medium head cabbage, cored and shredded
1 (8-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
1/2 cup sour cream, for topping
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Crumble the sausage into a skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir until it’s no longer pink. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Fill a large pot halfway with water (about 2 quarts), and bring to a boil. Add the sausage and cover the pot. Return to a boil. Add the beets and cook until they have lost their color. Add the carrots and potatoes and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the cabbage and the can of diced tomatoes.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until tender. Stir in the tomato paste and water until well blended. Transfer to the pot. Add the raw garlic to the soup, cover and turn off the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt, pepper and sugar. Ladle into serving bowls, and garnish with sour cream and fresh parsley.
One of my most vivid memories of beets occurred while working on a research ship in the Bering Sea in the early 1980s. Halfway through the four-week trip, we were scheduled to rendezvous with a Soviet research ship as some sort of cultural and scientific exchange. In essence, a few of us visited the Soviet ship while several of their crew toured our vessel. Keep in mind, this was before glasnost and perestroika led to the liquidation of the Soviet empire, so this kind of exchange was not an ordinary occurrence.
Our launch pulled up to the vessel’s rusty hull. A crew member lowered a rope ladder from the ship’s railing. To get aboard, we had to time our moves with the swells as best we could, grab onto the rope ladder and scramble up to the deck.
The tour started in the galley, considered by most oceangoing folks to be the heart of a ship. Standing behind an enormous square table was a middle-aged woman wielding a paring knife in her right hand. She looked up as we entered, nodded and then got back to business. One by one, she selected a beet from the mountain of beets in front of her and began peeling. Her hands were red, but quick.
I’ll never forget that mountain of beets; it dwarfed the woman, yet she just kept on peeling … as we left the galley, a rat scurried across the floor under the table. I looked at the woman, smiled and hurried to catch up with the group.
The Kodiak Garden Club will host their yearly potluck dinner and annual meeting on Monday, Oct. 25, at 6:30 p.m. at Darlene Turner’s house , 2046 Three Sisters Way, at the foot of Three Sisters, phone 486-6390. Bring a favorite dish and a favorite friend to this fun event.
Marion Owen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.