My mother has always said that the Canadians have it right: Thanksgiving should be in October. The harvest is so much more bountiful a month earlier than American Thanksgiving. However, there are some great vegetables that are in season this time of year. In our area, that includes many varieties of winter squash, carrots, kale, chard, and beets.
While beets haven’t featured often in our Thanksgiving line up of side dishes, there’s no good reason for that. Except perhaps that we have them with dinner regularly. If you do too, consider preparing them a different way for Thanksgiving (check out the three options below). If you don’t make beets, give them a try. My husband swore he hated them until about 3 years ago, when a good preparation won him over. I’m still working on our son, but he will eventually join us on the bright side, too.
I love beets for their distinctive taste, nutritional value, and flexible preparation. Allow me to elaborate.
1. You can cook beets several different ways
– Roast them on a cookie sheet;
– Bake them in a Dutch oven; or
– Cook them on the stovetop in a heavy pan with some water.
Any of the recipes below can be started by the above cooking methods. Since beets vary in size so drastically, estimating cooking times is difficult. Let’s say 30-60 minutes. Just spear them with a fork occasionally to test their doneness, and try to buy ones of relatively uniform size. Of course, you can halve them to speed the cooking time.
Psst, you can even buy them pre-cooked, like my sister the bad Yankee does. (Sorry to call you out again, Sis!) They sell good quality organic ones at Trader Joe’s and Costco.
2. You can season beets a variety of ways
I offer three options below, ranging for dead simple to a bit more involved. Of course, there are many, many other options, too. Think borscht, potato salad with carrots and beets (staple in some areas of South America and the Caribbean), pickled beets, and even beet chips. I favor preparations that involve a lot of vinegar, as I like the way it balances out the sugar in the beets.
3. You can prepare beets at your leisure
First of all, before being cooked, they last a long time in the fridge, cellar, or garage when those areas are cold. Secondly, although seasoning the beets while still warm from cooking allows them to absorb the flavors more readily, if you need to split up the beet cooking and beet seasoning to accommodate your schedule, you can do that. I can’t tell you how many times I have run out of time at night and just shoved the whole Dutch oven containing plain roasted beets into the fridge, to be peeled and seasoned another day. They do just fine. And yes, even the store-bought pre-cooked ones take a dressing nicely.
4. You can eat beets at your leisure
Cooked beets last a while in the fridge (maybe 5 days, even longer if pickled). All of the dishes described below are delicious warm, cold or at room temperature. So take your time with leftover beets. Set them on the table to warm up while you prepare dinner, or toss them cold straight into a salad.
5. Peeling them turns your hands pink!
Need I say more?
Yes? Well, if you don’t find this as amusing as I do, try peeling them under running water or wash and roast your beets and leave the skins on. Short of wearing gloves, I don’t know a way of avoid the pink stain completely, but these two techniques help.
So cough up the recipes already!
Here are three different ways to prepare beets once cooked. Select the one that sounds the best or doesn’t require a special shopping trip, or try all three. The first two are “mine” and have no quantities listed. They are salads. Don’t sweat it. Just eyeball the proportions that look right to you. The third one comes from a new cookbook just released last month.
The Basic: Quick and Dirty Pickled Beets
1. Slice, cube or wedge your cooked beets (see above for cooking options).
2. Chop up some onion (yellow, white, red or green).
3. Mix up a basic vinaigrette: olive oil, vinegar (I like red wine or cider, not balsamic), salt and pepper.
4. Toss all the elements in a bowl, mix well to combine and serve.
The Colorful: Beets with Avocado and Orange
1. Slice or wedge your cooked beets (see above for cooking options), considering the aesthetics of the shapes of other two main ingredients. Pour in a bowl and set aside.
2. Mix up a basic vinaigrette: olive oil, vinegar (I like red wine or cider, not balsamic), salt and pepper. Pour ¾ of the dressing over the beets and toss.
3. Spread the dressed beets on a platter.
4. Slice some orange. You can either section it or cut the peel off and slice it crosswise (so the slices look like wheels with spokes). Lay the orange on top of the beets. (Note: Grapefruit is delicious, too, but needs to be sectioned.)
5. Slice some avocado. Lay the slices on the beets and oranges.
6. Pour the remaining dressing over the whole platter. (Sliced scallion is a nice addition.) Serve whenever, but the colors will start to bleed if you wait too long.
The Exotic: Belly Dance Beet Salad
This final recipe is slightly adapted from one in Well Fed 2, a new cookbook of Paleo diet recipes. The author has made available a free sample, and it’s marvelous. If I were to write a cookbook, this is just how I’d envision it: detailed, but not rigid, beautiful and inspiring, but not overwhelming, healthy, but not bland. Take a look for yourself!
1. Cook 2 bunches of beets using your method of choice. I tried the author’s, which involves tossing halved beets in melted coconut oil and roasting them on a cookie sheet. It’s pretty good, but a little fussy for me, although this method doesn’t require peeling the beets. Next time, I’ll stick to my easier ways described above.
Tip: if you use the coconut oil called for in the original recipe, put your solid oil into a metal measuring cup and leave it on the stove while the beets roast. It will be melted in short order.
2. Toast 1/3 cup of shelled and chopped pistachios. Use the oven if you’re cooking the beets in there already. If not, the toaster oven works great for this.
3. Mix up the dressing: 2T orange juice (I used grapefruit), 1T red wine vinegar (I like mine really sour so I added 2-3T more), 1/8 t each of ground cumin, ground coriander, ground cinnamon and salt, 1 minced clove of garlic, black pepper to taste, and 1T olive oil.
4. When the beets are cool enough to handle (or cold in my case), cut into bite-sized chunks and toss in a bowl. Add 2-3T of finely chopped onion (or scallion is even better if you have it, and it’s what the original recipe calls for). Pour the dressing over, toss and serve.
One veggie, three ways. Take your pick. Whichever you choose, it will be a good antidote to all the starchy and rich side dishes at Thanksgiving. Make some beets this year (or squash, or brussel sprouts) and return the harvest’s bounty to your table. After all, that’s what Thanksgiving is meant to celebrate.
What vegetable dishes will you make this year? Which ones are must-haves in your family? Share with us your favorites and we will all give thanks for the bounty of ideas.