Can’t Beet It!

If you’re a little wary of eating so many potatoes over Pesach; don’t love sweet potatoes or squash and you crave other vegetables, beets are the way to go. Some people claim they hate beets, but we say if you were to close your eyes and taste them, they would seem like a delicious fruit. Beets are sweet!

Fresh beets are always in good supply. Beets are loaded with folic acid and potassium, and have a distinctive flavor and a crisp texture. They are grown in more than 30 states, and crops are harvested and shipped throughout the year.

Look for smooth, hard, round beets; a healthy deep red color is an indicator of quality. The surface should be smooth and free of cuts. Avoid beets with soft, moist spots or shriveled, flabby skin. The taproot, which extends from the bulbous part of the beet, should be slender.

The most famous dish prepared from beets is one that is associated exclusively with Pesach. The origins of borscht are in Lithuania and Russia, but most people of Eastern European descent have their versions of this readily available and inexpensive dish. Many people prepare fermented sour borscht about two weeks before Pesach, but it is fast becoming a lost art. Most folks prefer to make a quicker version.

Oh, one other important fact to keep in mind: That beautiful red color will quickly and thoroughly stain hands, clothing and utensils. Use an apron and gloves when working with these bleeding veggies or risk walking around with pink hands for a few days.

Quick Borscht

  • 6–7 medium beets (approx. 3 pounds) peeled
  • water and coarse salt
  • juice of 4 or 5 lemons

Quarter beets and place in a 5- or 6-quart pot. Cover with water and add 2 tablespoons salt. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until beets are tender, approximately 30 minutes. Pour off the liquid; you should have 2–3 quarts. Reserve beets for another use — such as our salad, below.  Add lemon juice to taste. Refrigerate and serve cold in a tall glass.

For hot borscht, continue as follows:

In a large bowl, beat two eggs until light and frothy. Using a ladle, slowly pour boiling borscht into the beaten eggs, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. Continue adding hot borscht until it has all been incorporated into the eggs. Serve immediately with boiled potato cubes.

Colorful Beet Salad

This combination of beets, grapefruit and avocado makes a stunning presentation at the start of your meal.

  • For the dressing:
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon or lime juice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground horseradish
  • 3 Tbsp. walnut oil or olive oil

For the salad:

  • 1 lb. beets, peeled and roasted
  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • 1 medium-size or large ripe but firm Hass avocado, sliced
  • 2 oz. slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2 Tbsp. slivered fresh basil (optional)

Mix together the lemon or lime juice, salt, pepper and horseradish. Whisk in the oil.

Peel the roasted beets, and slice or cut in wedges. Toss with 2 tablespoons of dressing while it is still warm.

Cut away both ends of the grapefruit so that it sits flat on your work surface. Cut the skin and pith completely away from the fruit, following the natural curve of the fruit from top to bottom. Hold the grapefruit in your hand over a bowl to catch the juice, and cut away each segment from between the membranes.

Arrange the beets in the center of a platter, and surround with the grapefruit and avocado slices. Drizzle on the remaining dressing, and drizzle any grapefruit juice in the bowl over the grapefruit and avocado. Sprinkle on the almonds and basil, if using, and serve.

Beet and Pear Napoleons

Don’t let the name scare you off when preparing this elegant side dish. It’s simply a nice way of referring to stacked food!

  • 3 medium red beets (about 1 3/4 pounds), peeled
  • 1 (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large ripe Anjou pears

Equipment: a 1 1/2- to 2-inch round cookie cutter

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Wrap beets in foil and roast until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Let stand until cool enough to handle; then slice crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, finely grate ginger with a Microplane over a kitchen-towel-lined bowl. Carefully gather towel around ginger and squeeze until you have 2 tablespoons ginger juice. Whisk in orange juice, sugar, and oil. Season with salt and pepper. Divide vinaigrette evenly between 2 small bowls.

Cut pears lengthwise around core into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Cut out as many rounds as you can from the slices using cookie cutter and put in one bowl of vinaigrette.

Cut out rounds from beet slices and put in other bowl. Toss pears and beets in separate bowls with vinaigrette to coat well.

To assemble napoleons, put 1 beet round on each of 6 plates. Top with 1 pear round, then another beet slice. Repeat layering 2 more times. Discard vinaigrette used for beets. Drizzle stacks with more vinaigrette from the pear bowl if desired.

Honey-Glazed Beets

These are like the tasty beets they serve at weddings—only better, because they’re made from fresh beets.

  • 2 lbs. medium beets
  • 1/4 cup light olive oil or cottonseed oil
  • 3 Tbs. grated horseradish
  • 3 Tbs. honey*
  • 3 Tbs. wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

Wrap beets in foil and roast until tender, about 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, peel beets and cut into eighths, then transfer to a bowl.

Heat oil with horseradish, honey, vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat. Stir in beets and boil, stirring occasionally, until liquid in skillet is reduced to about 1/4 cup and beets are coated, 4 to 5 minutes.

*If you do not use honey on Pesach you can cook 1/2 cup sugar until it becomes light amber-colored and use that in the recipe. This works well in any recipe that uses honey.

Wishing all a chag kasher v’same’ach!