"The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious". (Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume)
No matter how simple, beet salad is sure to impress. The sweetness of beets always comes through as a surprise – this is not what you would expect from a vegetable! And if you are not taken with its peculiar flavour - than at least you’ll be shocked by thei intense colour of beets, which paints everything it touches with a jewel-tone. Beets simply cannot be ignored even if you try hard!
I’ve always loved beets. I can’t remember myself ever not liking beets (as long as they are cooked, that is; raw beets do nothing to me). I can never forget sitting at the train-long table at my step-grandparents’, a table full of cousins (all boys!) all sitting patiently and quietly waiting for all the rituals to be over so we can eat all the delicacies laid down in front of us (all, with no exception, made from scratch by my step-grandmother and great-grandmother – no one was allowed to help with the cooking!). Somehow, without nobody noticing, in between the Seder’s few glasses of grape juice, I managed to eat my way through the little salad plates full of beets that my little hands could reach. Or was it Sukkot? It doesn’t matter. Because in every Jewish-Morrocan holiday table that respects itself, there will always be a beet salad of some sort – either shredded or sliced – to add colour to the meal.
In the village where I grew up, beets seems to symbolize the very essence of rustic yet festive cooking. In every celebration in my village, there will be at least one beet salad. That’s why I can’t really agree with Tom Robbins that beets are melancholy!
"The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip... "
(Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume)
They always looked similar, but always had an added personal touch – one woman would use chopped parsley, another would add coriander seeds instead of cumin, or just slice the beets in a different thickness…
In Rosh HaShana, beets have an added meaning – it becomes a symbol for “banishing the enemies”. This is simply because the name for beets seems to have the same root as “banish” in Hebrew. So I wish for all of us that we will have no enemies at all, and will be able to enjoy our beets without thinking such nasty thoughts. Remember, the best way to banish an enemy is to turn him/her into a friend!
Any recipe for a good beet salad starts with getting the right beets – they need to be not too old (or else they will be too fibery and not sweet enough), yet not too small either (because it’s more difficult to peel and cut beets that are very small – the crown that connects them to the leaves and stems take over too much of the root and there isn’t enough left for eating!).
The following recipe is easy to make and keeps well. You can make it a day or two ahead of the occasion you wish to serve beets for - and it will only improve with time.
You will need:
6-8 fresh beets, unpeeled, uncut, with stems removed.
Juice from 1 lemon
1 tsp. Olive Oil (Optional)
1-3 cloves garlic, minced
Cumin to taste (but it’s best to use lots – about 1Tbs.)
Parsley sprigs for garnish (optional)
Place the beets in a large pot with enough water to cover the beets. Do not cut or peel the beets, as this will cause them to “bleed” out all their colour and flavour!
Boil in water over medium heat until soft, but firm enough (the beets should not be mushy – cook until you can poke through the beets with a fork).
As soon as the beets reach the softness desired, rinse them under cold water, and remove the “skin” the peel immediately with your hands – as soon as you can without burning your fingers. If you wait too long until the beets cool completely, the peels will refuse to leave the beets and you will loose a lot of the beets’ flesh, and create a lot of work for yourself (as you will now need to peel them with a knife!).
Slice the beets thinly (I usually cut them into quarters before slicing them).
Add the lemon juice, cumin and garlic, and olive oil if desired. Serve at room temperature or cold, garnished with parsley sprigs.
Beet salad is especially wonderful when served alongside other salads and dips. Tahini makes a particularly great accompaniment to beets, served with fresh flat bread or a Challah.
- You may also add chopped parsley to the beet salad.
- Add a dash of balsamic vinegar and seeds of sour-sweet (deep, dark red) pomegranate, omit garlic and cumin.
- Instead of slicing the beets, grate them with a large grater. Use only lemon and cumin for dressing – but if you wish you can also add a bit of pressed garlic.