Tag Archives: beet salad

Beets and potatoes (and grandmothers from Russia)

beetspotatoes1A few days ago, I was talking on the phone with my cousin Yael–an Israeli, though she’s lived in the United States for decades now–about the traditional foods we had on Passover.

Our grandmothers were sisters — from the village of Shumsk (or Szumsk) in Russia (though sometimes the region was part of Poland and currently it’s part of the Ukraine) — and Yael and I discovered that both of us grew up with potatoes on the seder plate, either instead of parsley or alongside it. Why? Because in Russia (or Poland or Ukraine or whatever) there were no fresh vegetables growing in April.

raddishes

I found radishes at the farmers market here, but it might still be too early for them in the Ukraine. Or Russia. Or Poland.

Passover foods generally involve a lot of potatoes, but beets are also traditional, especially for Jews from Eastern Europe, as it was another root vegetable available in early spring.

Yael told me about a sweet-sour beet salad she makes for Passover, and that reminded me of beet borscht. On Passover, my mother always served it a special way with an egg whipped in the soup tureen, turning the borscht from wine-red to a frothy deep rose color. Yael’s family made it that way too, she said.

Baba (Edess Kanfer Arshack)

Baba (Edess Kanfer Arshack)

My mother told me that her mother (my Baba) always made rossel (or rossl or rosel), which is sour or fermented beets, a kind of starter for genuine beet borscht.  She started the fermentation six weeks before Passover, putting cleaned and peeled chunks of beets in an earthenware crock and covering them with water, checking every few days. The women neighbors in Rock Island, Illinois, where my mother’s family lived, would come to the house and take a cupful of Baba’s rossel so they could make their own borscht.

Looking around the Internet, I noticed a couple of things about rossel. For a long while it fell out of favor as it takes quite a bit of planning and some attention. (Even my mother, who kept so many food traditions, never made it.) Plus people’s tastes had changed and sour fermented beets didn’t sound so appealing –although kosher dill pickles, which are fermented cucumbers, never lost their fans.

But recently, it’s having a bit of a come-back (though one couldn’t exactly call it a resurgence) as fermented foods are becoming more popular. Now I am seriously thinking of making rossel next year (my Jewish cookbook says three or four weeks ahead is sufficient), and perhaps some of my trusty readers will try it too. As Levy‘s bakery famously said, “You don’t have to be Jewish . . .”

In the meantime, I tried Yael’s beet salad with lemon juice and a touch of sugar, which captured the flavors of our shared history.

It made me think of the freedom our grandparents found when they left the Old Country, and that, along with the marvelous color, made me happy.

Ship postcard

The ship that my grandmother took to America

Sweet-and-sour beet salad

beetinfoilYael boils the beets. I baked them, wrapped tightly in tin foil, on a cookie sheet. Either way, if they’re large, they’ll take a while.

(By the way, I first removed the beet greens and steamed them, for another use. Don’t throw them away!)

gratingbeets2When the beets are cool, you peel them and grate them. I think next time, I will under-bake them just a little. These were a bit too soft.

Once they’re grated, add lemon juice, sugar (I’d go easy on that) and a little salt, to taste.beetsalad
There are many ways you could serve this salad, of course, but I thought it looked nice against the green of romaine lettuce leaves. You could fold the leaves around the salad and eat it as a finger food. It looks like a new Passover tradition for me!

For more on beets: A valentine vegetable

For more about Passover:
Edible, tangible memory
A cake for all seasons
Time for quinoa

 

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Filed under Praise for other cooks, salad, soup, spring, Uncategorized, vegetables

A Valentine vegetable

Have you ever noticed that out-of-season produce such as asparagus and strawberries are popular choices for Valentine’s Day dinners?

What’s wrong with a good winter root vegetable with a deep garnet color and a heart-like shape? Yes, of course, I am talking about our humble friend, the beetroot.

Its cultivated form, says the Oxford Companion to Food (on whose cover is a photo of beetroot), is descended from the sea beet, B. maritima, that grows wild around the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Europe and N. Africa.  There are various forms and colors, but the red beet, with purple and yellow pigments combining to produce its strong scarlet color, was embraced soon after its introduction to England in the 17th century. Its juice is often used as a natural food coloring.

French and Italian chefs cut the beets into interesting shapes and figures for their salads.

That reminds me that my sister Milly once made a beet borscht for Valentine’s Day, cutting all the beets into heart shapes.

Though heart-beets (pun intended) were too much trouble for me — and even Milly noted that she did that only once, long ago — I did think a beet salad would be nice around Valentine’s Day — a salad described quite fittingly in 1699 as “a grateful winter Sallet.”

The salad I made is a classic combo: cooked cut beets are dressed with a vinaigrette and served atop greens with some toasted walnuts and a dollop or two of goat cheese.

Of course there are countless variations on this theme. I added orange zest and a little fresh orange juice in addition to the oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, but a dressing made with lemon zest and juice would certainly be just as nice.  You could serve it warm and serve on gently cooked beet greens. You could use hazelnuts in place of walnuts, feta cheese instead of goat cheese. Or omit the cheese altogether, and add some segments of orange or mandarin….

About cooking beets: I wrapped them in aluminum foil, put them on a baking sheet and baked them at 350 degrees for a long while –about an hour — but I’ve  read of a quick method for those with microwave ovens: simply put a few beets in a covered microwave dish and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

In both cases, rinse the beets under cool water and slip off their skins (which will temporarily stain your fingers pink) before cutting into wedges, slices, matchsticks, or whatever shapes strike your fancy. Even hearts.

I did cut one heart-beet for this quick little print

After your grateful winter beetroot salad, there will still be plenty of room for dessert.

A happy Valentine’s Day to all of you!

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Filed under salad, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter

Salads, salads, salads

Lately, it’s salads for lunch and, often as not,  more salads for supper.

Contrast is important in a salad: textures, tastes–and colors.

The dark pinks and magentas of red onion, beets, purple cauliflower or red cabbage look stunning against vivid greens.  The salad above was a basic green salad with different types of very fresh lettuce (thank you, Martha) and some marinated red onions, which are simply made by cutting the onion in half, slicing thinly, tossing on some salt and a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar and some peppermint, dried or fresh (minced). Let the onions marinate for an hour before serving.

Here’s some more salads I’ve been enjoying lately:

Multi-colored couscous, yellow peppers, cucumber, garbanzos, green onion, feta, kalamata olives, mint

I dress most of the salads in my basic olive oil-lemon juice-salt mixture, but sometimes I use vinegar or lime juice in place of the lemon juice.

Beets in balsamic vinegar with feta, walnuts, cilantro

Arugula with fresh figs, walnuts, Parmeggiano shavings

Kale salad with corn fritters

Check out the corn fritters on Alexandra’s wonderful cooking blog. They’re delicious. (I made a couple changes — used low fat Greek-style yogurt instead of full fat and green onions in place of a shallot.)

Bean salad: cannellini beans, green and yellow string beans

Potato salad with tuna in olive oil, green beans, red onions, lemon zest

Spinach salad with feta cheese, toasted walnuts, kalamata olives. And bread.

Green beans with red onions, celery and toasted walnuts

The salad above was inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, with some changes. The almonds sounded great, but Steve is allergic to them, so it was toasted walnuts, again — and my version of the red onion.

Watermelon salad with feta cheese, fresh mint and lime

Sometimes the salad doesn't even get mixed up in the bowl....

A favorite farmers' market vendor

I get most of my vegetables from the farmers’ market,  farm stands or generous friends….

My latest fascination is purple cauliflower

I made a quick pickled cauliflower by slicing thinly and rubbing the pieces with salt -- and the color was terrific

I served it alongside more of those corn fritters and Castelvetrano olives. A bit of cheese and bread, of course.

A little kitchen chemistry: I discovered that if you squeeze lemon juice on cooked purple cauliflower it turns from lavender to a vivid magenta color….

Confetti salad: bulgur, purple cauliflower, carrots, green beans, peas, green onions, basil--or was it cilantro?

That was the inspiration for a new salad…. “What’s this called?” Steve asked. I’ve heard the name Confetti Salad applied to other colorful concoctions, so I’m sure this will fit in the confetti category.

I'm already thinking about the variations I'll make....

What’s your favorite salad these days?

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Filed under Praise for other cooks, salad, summer, Uncategorized, vegetables