I remember a time in the not-too-distant past when I didn’t like beets either. They were watery and tasted a whole lot like the can that they came in. I don’t remember seeing fresh beets in the produce section of the “Little Jitney” grocery store in Vicksburg, Mississippi. There was plenty of iceberg lettuce and red cabbage, but not beets. Those were in cans.
My dad was adamant about his displeasure regarding beets so we kids just blindly followed suit. My Aunt Marge would cook them on occasion by emptying the contents of the can into a saucepan and making them hot. They were served alongside some boiled, frozen, chopped broccoli and baked chicken. The broccoli was adorned with Hollandaise sauce made from a Knorr envelope and the baked chicken was usually topped with canned “B in B” brand mushrooms (it stood for “Broiled in Butter”).
Those beets were so confusing. They were sweet, but also tasted metallic. They were obviously “clean” since they went directly from can to pan, but they had the unmistakable aroma and flavor of dirt. Not dirty in the sense of being unclean, but of real dirt, like the taste you got in your mouth when you were sweaty, digging a hole somewhere in the woods and wiped your dirty hand across your face and got a mouthful of actual dirt.
I kind-of liked them, but I wouldn’t dare admit it since the highest authority figure on the subject of food (my Dad) wasn’t fond of this particular root vegetable.
Fast forward several decades and beets are making a strong comeback. Every “farm-to-table” restaurant is serving beets. Braised, roasted, pickled, stewed – they’re almost as ubiquitous as kale, and for good reason. That flavor of “dirt” that I mentioned before? That’s now called “earthy” and it is a big ‘ol delicious hit. My old restaurant served them almost year-round and I think even my Dad (who wasn’t a picky eater, he just didn’t like beets or Ambrosia) would have approved. I prefer to roast them whole, wrapped in foil, but you can cut up much in the way you might roast potatoes or turnips.
This recipe is for just red beets, but if you have some other root vegetables (other than white potatoes) hanging around waiting to be cooked, just toss them together for a nice mélange of tubers. Just make sure that you segregate the red beets from everything else or you’ll end up with a pan of vegetables resembling a study in the shades of pink.
Roasted Beets with Cayenne Salted Yogurt
1 1/2 lbs. fresh, red beets (peeled and cut into 1” chunks)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 lemon (zest and juice)
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine beets and olive oil and toss until all pieces are well coated.
Season liberally with salt, pepper and thyme leaves then toss to ensure even distribution of seasonings.
Spread onto a foil-lined sheet pan in a single layer with some space between pieces and roast for 20-25 minutes or until fork-tender.
While the beets are cooking, combine yogurt, buttermilk the zest and juice from a lemon and at least one teaspoon of salt. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.
Serve beets lightly drizzled with seasoned yogurt.