February 13, 2012
Some people hate beets. Some people hate dogs and happiness and Bob Dylan. Which is to say, some people don’t know what they’re missing.
Presumably, beet haters tasted canned beets as children and hastily came to the conclusion that they don’t like beets. But think about this for a minute. Have you ever tasted green beans from a can? My middle-school cafeteria used to serve those on a regular basis—just thinking about them puts a foul taste in my mouth. What about corn-syrup-drenched peaches in a can? Also vile. And also a usual suspect in my middle-school cafeteria, come to think of it!
So, given that most fruits and vegetables taste abominable when soaked in salty or sugary water and left on a grocery store shelf for a year (baby corn and artichokes being the exceptions), why would you pass judgment on the poor, undeserving beet based on one bite of the canned variety?
Here’s the simplest way to prepare beets: Rinse them and cut off most of the stem and root (leave about an inch of these). Wrap them up in foil with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and roast them in a 350-degree oven until tender (about 30 minutes to 1½ hours, depending on the size and freshness of your beets). Once they cool enough to handle, peel them (with gloves if you don’t want purple hands), cube them, and toss them with a small amount of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If you want to get fancy, throw in a few other ingredients—feta cheese, goat cheese, hazelnuts, and oranges all pair nicely with beets. So, next time you’re roasting something in the oven for a while, throw in one of these little foil packet of beets and you’ll have a beautiful, nutritious side dish with barely any extra work.
Or, make beets the star of the meal. Try beet risotto, beet ravioli, or beet fritters. Beets are also delicious raw. One of my favorite summertime dishes is beet and carrot salad: grated peeled raw beets and carrots tossed with a lime vinaigrette and cilantro. I’ve even made beet carpaccio; okay, it doesn’t have much in common with real carpaccio, but it’s tasty: Thinly slice peeled, raw beets with a mandolin or food processor and arrange them in one layer on a plate; top with arugula and drizzle with an emulsified Dijon and lemon vinaigrette.
Beets are even good in desserts. Yes, desserts—especially chocolate ones. In fact, I brought beet-and-chocolate cake to work with me when I was in Egypt and my unsuspecting coworkers all loved it. I’ve also seen recipes for red velvet cake with beet juice instead of red dye. (Perhaps some of these produce the desired vibrant red color, but in my experience the beet juice resulted in a bright red batter and a dull brown cake.
I made a real red velvet cake only once. After pouring the third bottle of red food dye into the batter, I vowed to never make it again. I don’t know what is in red food dye, but it can’t be good for me. But here, just in time for Valentine’s Day, is an alternative to that old standard the red velvet cake. I’m calling it Red Velvet Mousse, but it’s more of a magenta color, which is from—yup, you guessed it—beets.
Red Velvet Mousse doesn’t really taste like red velvet cake, but to me, that’s not a bad thing because I think red velvet cake tastes pretty much like yellow cake mix with extra butter. Red Velvet Mousse, on the other hand, has a distinctive flavor that I really like it—sweet and tangy and mildly chocolaty and hinting of sweet, dusky beets. I guarantee you’ve never tasted anything quite like it before.
The recipe serves four, but it can easily serve two people twice, or one person four times, so whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day with friends, romancing your partner, or wallowing in self pity alone, I’ve got you covered.
Place the beets in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer until the beets are soft, about 20-30 minutes. Transfer the beet slices to a blender or food processor and blend, adding enough water to make a thick puree.
Mix the gelatin with 2 Tbsp water and let stand 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale, thick ribbons form.
Add the gelatin and the chocolate to the beet puree and microwave on high for about a minute, or until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is hot (or heat on the stovetop, being careful not to burn the chocolate). Gradually whisk the hot beet mixture into the egg yolks. Whisk in the softened butter, vanilla, and white vinegar.
Beat the egg whites on high until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the beet puree until mostly combined. In the same bowl you used for the egg whites, beat the cream until thick (i.e., make whipped cream), and fold it into the beet mixture. Be careful not to over mix, or the mousse will deflate.
Divide the mousse into serving bowls or glasses and chill for several hours. Just before serving, top with the cream cheese mousse. If you do this too early the beet color will bleed into the cream cheese mousse and turn it pink.
Note: If you want a stronger chocolate flavor, use more chocolate (maybe another half ounce) or add a little cocoa powder to the beet mixture before you heat it. This will change the color to a deeper red to a reddish brown, depending on how much you add. You may also want to adjust the sugar; chocolate will make the mousse sweeter and cocoa powder will make it less sweet.
Microwave the cream cheese until softened, about 30 seconds. Mix in the sugar and vanilla. In a separate bowl, beat the cream until thick (i.e., make whipped cream) and fold into the cheese mixture. Chill for several hours.