Beets. My first experience with beets was when I was fourteen and frequently tasked with cleaning and “refreshing” the salad bar at a local iteration of a Camelot themed pizza chain. Now nothing at a pizza chain salad bar tends to be particularly appetizing, unless of course you have a soft spot for rubbery broccoli, wilted iceberg lettuce or an odd jello salad polluted with baco-bits, kidney beans, and french dressing.
Now beets might not seem to compare to french dressing covered jello on the disgust level, but the jello wasn’t pretending to be a vegetable. Those wiggling red things that plopped their way out of a can every night in imitation of my dog’s dinner couldn’t possibly be natural. That they would be moved from a refrigerator in the morning and sent out to a salad bar where they would sit for hours, turning effectively into rubber, didn’t really help much either.
So a decade or so later, in a very different place and state of mind, and thinking very differently about food, I still felt a thudding dismay when a CSA box came packed with a big bunch of red beets. These weren’t at all how I remembered beets. They were dirty and full of crooked roots and hanging from a big plume of red veined leaves. I wasn’t sure what to do. I almost didn’t want to eat them at first, remembering those rubbery horrors from a past life. But I soon decided that the best way to overcome a youthful aversion was to tackle it head on and these were the first thing that I was going to prepare from that box.
I went to Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, one of the first places I turn to when faced with an unfamiliar vegetable and jumped on the recipe for Beets with Greens in a horse radish dressing. Why not go all out and cook the whole thing all up at once? As I soon found out, Beets need not be strange jiggly blobs, but have all the complexities you’d expect from something that combines earthy with a dense sweetness. So by removing its association with the grim toil of an adolescent’s first job, I finally learned to love the beet.