This was not the post I had planned for this week. But then, this was not the week I had planned either. It was a week of lessons about letting go of things. Those lessons seemed to come from all sides. And at the center of it all was my mother’s admission to the hospital all the way across the country in Maine — in acute heart failure. She is 81, has lived a good life, and has done more for me than I can possibly recount. As a doc, I’ve seen more than enough evidence to convince me beyond any doubt that death is a door to something extraordinarily beautiful. It is nothing we need to fear. At birth we come in through that same door — the energy is exactly the same. I feel a great sense of peace — even excitement for her as she approaches that door in her poor, worn out body — but the process of losing a parent is not something for which there is a road map; no matter how prepared you think you are, it is almost inconceivable when a person who has always been there, departs.
What does this all have to do with beets, you may be wondering? Beets, like all root vegetables, are good to eat when you need to feel rooted. They possess the nurturing energy of the earth, which helps to contain us, when we’re feeling scattered. My dear friend, former housemate and surrogate brother used to make these simple beets quite often — usually as an accompaniment to beans and rice of some sort. He usually cooked on nights that I was working long hours at the clinic, and coming home to those beets was just about the most blissful thing ever.
This week I found myself craving simple, good, nourishing vegetables, and those beets topped the list. So now I’ll share them with you …
- 4 medium beets (about 3-4 inch diameter are nice)
- 1 small jalapeno OR a handful of fresh chives or parsley if you don’t like hot & spicy!
- vinegar (apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar both work well)
- olive oil
- 1 cup plain yogurt (any kind you like– I use a whole milk Greek, which has a nice, thick texture)
- 1 teaspoon dried dill and/or 1/3 cup fresh dill, chopped fine)
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- salt to taste
Okay, so the easiest way I know of to steam your beets is with one of those little metal gizmos that are always hanging around thrift store kitchen sections …. and cluttering up the backs of a lot of people’s kitchen drawers. I just had to explain to a good friend how this thing works because she owns one but has never actually used it. My strong suspicion is that she is not alone.
Basically, it’s like an upside-down metal flower. The stem is on the top instead of the bottom. Grab the metal “stem” and give a little tug on the folded up petals — they will open up so you now have a basket of sorts. Lower the basket into a pot of roughly the same size diameter, and put enough water in the pot so that it is just under the steamer, not coming up through. The idea is that your vegetables steam rather than boil in the water (leaching out nutrients). Now pile in your veggies on top of the metal basket. When they’re done, grab the “stem” with a potholder, pull the whole thing out, and let veggies cool outside of the pot so they don’t overcook. If you don’t have a steamer, it’s also fine to just put a half inch or so of water in a pot and put the vegetables right in. No big deal. Just use a pot with a heavy bottom, and watch carefully that your water doesn’t evaporate because in this case, the veggies are right on the bottom of the pot and could burn without water.
Rinse your beets, cut them in half, and steam until you can just slide a fork in — tender but not mushy. This takes a little while — roughly a half an hour, depending on the size of your beets and how many times you take the cover off the pot to check them. You could also use a microwave, I’m sure, but since I don’t have one, I can’t give specific instructions on that. If anyone figures it out, please let me know! When cool enough to handle, peel and dice your beets — or you can skip the peeling step if you’re lazy like me. (I actually like to do the steaming before I go to bed and cut them up in the morning. Yes, I’m also partial to eating this for breakfast!) Toss the chopped beets with a dash of olive oil — just enough to lightly coat. Sprinkle with vinegar — I start with about a tablespoon, then taste and add more. I love them with a good, strong, tangy flavor. Mince as much jalapeno as you want, chives and/or parsley, and toss in.
Now for the sauce … Just scoop your yogurt into a bowl, and finely mince the garlic and fresh dill. Mix together, and add salt to taste and the dried dill if using. (This will give you extra-powerful dill flavor if that’s what you like, but it’s definitely not necessary to use both the dried and fresh herb.)
Beets with yogurt remind me of my Grandpa, and this lovely, dilly version is perfect. But if you don’t eat dairy, the ginger-tahini dressing from last week’s post (Citrus Quinoa Salad) also makes a fabulous pairing with steamed beets. Take your pick — or eat them just as they are … These are terrific eaten slightly warm, at room temperature or chilled. Beets are friendly and cooperative. They’re easy! They will easily keep in the fridge for a week and are a great addition to salads of all kinds. Serve beets with a sliced, hard-boiled egg and a pile of greens, and you’ve got an instant meal. They’re also a fantastic finger food for toddlers, who usually take right away to their mildly sweet taste. (Skip the jalapenos!) And if you have a young baby, just reserve a few of the plain steamed beets to puree in the food processor. Everyone’s happy:)
Beets contain iron, vitamin C, and a host of minerals in addition to lots of good fiber. So EAT BEETS!! (But — don’t be surprised if your urine turns pink for a little while! This can be a bit disconcerting if you’re not expecting it — I can attest! It goes away.)