Let us begin, fair reader, with a simple and delicious thing: Russian beet salad, intriguingly known in Russian itself as “vinaigrette” for reasons unclear and naught to do with balsamic.
RUSSIAN BEET SALAD
Ingredients (you’ll see why my recipes are “impressionistic” in a second):
6 or so small-medium beets or 3 or so large ones
4-5 new red potatoes (or any other waxy potato)
6-7 small dill pickles, 3-4 medium (you want hardcore garlicky pickles, none of that Vlasic shit: I recommend Klaussen from the regular supermarket and, of course, any proper artisanal ones)
half a white onion (NOT red, not yellow: white)
a few fronds of dill
1 generous glug of olive oil to taste
OK, here’s the deal with any beet recipes: you’re going to read almost everywhere that you want to soften the beets by boiling them in salted water, yadda yadda. You may certainly do that, but you will regret it because boiling beets leeches out their divine flavor. In fact, I hated beets my entire life because I’d always had them boiled, until I ended up with a bunch in a farm share earlier this summer and wondered if maybe baking them would make a difference in the flavor. A world of difference, reader! Baked they are divine, fragrant, juicy, perfect – take my advice and bake them for use in any beet recipe, be it borscht (we’ll get there), a simple side or a salad. So, take the beets, DO NOT PEEL, cut off their tails, cut the greens off leaving about an inch (and, if fresh, reserve those leafy babies, you’ll see why). Stick beets into a glass casserole with a lid (deep baking pan and tinfoil will do fine though) and shove them in the oven at 350 for 1 hr - 1hr 20 min.
In the (ample) mean time, boil your potatoes in salted water until you can easily stick a knife through them, dice them finely when they’re done; chop the pickles, onion and dill. Remove your finished fragrant beets and run them under cold water – the skins should pop off easily under your fingers. I ought to warn you that this will get delightfully messy: do not wear anything you value, do not attempt to answer the phone and pray to God you don’t need to answer the door because you will (a) look to the world like a serial killer with red up to your elbows and (b) leave red handprints everywhere à la Tobias when he auditioned for the Blue Man Group. (FYI, beet juice does wash out easily; it just looks messy.) But once the skins are off, dice away like the beet killer you are, add to the bowl, glug in your olive oil and you, fair reader, will have delicious. You’ve got the baked sweetness of the beet, the soft mildness of the red potato, the bite of the white onion and the kick of the pickle. Not one mouthful will taste like the other because all the elements are intense, yet complementary, and each bite will be more pickle, or more beet, or more onion, and will taste differently every time.
Beet greens! If you’re lucky and your beet greens are still fresh (an important consideration when buying beets by the bunch: they don’t keep well either, so if you get fresh ones, try to use them the same day), treat them like you would any kind of green leafy thing. Salt and steam (preferably) or boil them in some salted water. Fry some diced onions and garlic in olive oil in a pan about 2-3 min until the onion is translucent and then dump in your steamed or boiled leafy goodness. When the leaves are wilted and take up about half their original space – you will have an extra side dish that tastes delicious and everyone will be like, oooh, two side dishes, and you’ll be all like, dude, one veggie = 2 sides, economy in these drastic times, bitches!
Music: Chris Garneau, Music for Tourists