Judy Ink - the food blog of Judy Schultz
And the Beets Go On
Thursday, 31 March 2011 16:27
One thing puzzles me about Kiwi cuisine.

 

It's beets, referred to here on our sandbar as beetroot. Beets are the puzzle.

Now I'm as fond of beets as the next cook. I grow them myself, back in our garden near Edmonton. Long skinny red ones, fat round ones with candy stripes, and the yellow ones called "golden."

I cook a few while they're tiny, with tops still attached. Speck of butter, drop of lemon juice, speck of salt. Yum.

I pickle a few. I make a pot or two of the beet soup I learned to love as a kid, while attending Ukrainian weddings back in Saskatchewan. I roast some, and glaze some with sour cream and dill. In desperation, I turn some into a kind of chunky beet salsa made with horseradish and cabbage.

After that I foist as many as I can onto polite neighbours, beets being the new zucchini.

But never, not even once, have I added sliced beets to a sandwich.

Enter my Kiwi daughter-in-law, Paula Schultz. Paula is a woman who re-defines the term "grace under pressure." In anything resembling a crisis, she's unflappable. She plays the cello, swings a cricket bat and flies a jet plane with equal aplomb, and I would trust her with my life. But in the seven years of our acquaintance, she has yet to convince me that beets belong in sandwiches, especially on hamburgers.

Having loaded a burger with all the usual suspects plus a pineapple ring, Paula keeps going.

"Now all this needs is a fried egg and a slice of beetroot," she'll say, ignoring the fact that fixings are already squishing out in every direction. The result is known in finer burger joints from Northlands to the Chatham Islands as "burger with the lot." As in burger, loaded.

"The beetroot is the final touch," says Paula, in a firm, compelling tone.

Recently, however, I've watched her fondness for beets begin to waver. Dougie, our fisherman-neighbour who keeps us supplied with fresh snapper, is also a gardener. He often appears in the yard with a huge tub of vegetables, and the bottom layer, well hidden beneath cabbages and beans, is always a solid dozen or so of giant beets, topped, cleaned and ready to cook.

So we've made beet pickles. We've made enough borscht for three Saskatchewan Ukrainian weddings. We've done the buttered beets and the barbecued beets and the beets glazed with sour cream. We've made grated raw beet salad, just to see if we liked it. (We didn't). I even made a chocolate cake with mashed beets; not a great success. A rather gluey texture, if you want the truth, and a kind of earthy flavour, but two large beets bit the dust.

Of course we've had burgers-with-beetroot. Twice.

This morning? On the doorstep, from yet another generous gardener? More beets.

For the first time, I saw the unflappable Paula close to coming unglued.

"What am I supposed to do with all this bloody beetroot?" she wailed.

I couldn't help myself. Had to say it.

"Beats me."

And the beets go on.

Judy Schultz, a food and travel writer based in New Zealand and Alberta, is crazy about beets.

Fast Beet Pickles

If you get the urge to dress up your burgers, these are the beets to use. These don't need to be processed as long as they aren't kept longer than three weeks in the fridge. They're sweet, sharp and spicy, just right to top off a burger with the lot.

To cook beets: Cover with water, boil until easily pierced with a knife point, and plunge into cold water. Skins will slip off easily.

2 cups cooked sliced cylinder beets

equal parts sugar and white vinegar to cover

1 tsp. salt

3 inch cinnamon quill, broken

Pack sliced beets into a glass container. Bring sugar and vinegar to a boil. Lay cinnamon quills on top of beets and pour boiling syrup over them so they are completely covered. Let pickles cool in their syrup, then cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the surface, secure with a rubber band, and refrigerate. May be used after 24 hours.

Chocolate Beet Spice Cake

1 ½ cups mashed cooked beetroot

½ cup cocoa powder

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

3 eggs, beaten

grated zest of 1 orange

Heat oven to 190'C.

In a food processor, puree beets, oil, vanilla, eggs and orange zest. Stir together dry ingredients and add to processor in two batches, spinning between batches.

Line, butter and flour an 18 cm round cake pan (not a springform, as this batter is runny). Bake cake about 50 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.