An Ode to Beets

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It’s 1AM and I don’t know why I’m talking about beets.

I guess it all started when I tried to make a beet salad last night to bring to school for my lunch today. Eating out in Paris is expensive, so I’ve been meaning to cook for myself and be a real adult. I went to this farmers’ market, Marché des Enfants Rouges, saw these fresh looking salad vegetables, and impulsively bought a handful of them along with a beet. I’m going to make myself a beet salad! I said to myself.

So I went back home and Googled how to peel and cook a beet, because its skin is rough like a potato’s. After skimming through the results page, I went to the kitchen, turned on the stove, and set down a pot of water to get it boiling. I peeled the beets, and dumped it inside the pot when the water started to bubble. As soon as the water started to get stained red like crazy, I was like, uh oh.

So, I wasn’t supposed to peel the beets before boiling. You boil them skin-on, or else its color will keep leaking into the water. (Unless you want beet soup, which I’m going to talk about in a bit.) Because, for those who don’t know, beets are bright red and its color gets onto everywhere. I nearly face-palmed myself as I gingerly picked up the beet from the pool of red water. I ended up eating my salad with raw beets, not soft and tender as they were supposed to be. It was like chewing raw carrots. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Adult 101 failed. (There’s nothing wrong with raw beets, by the way. Raw beets are just usually blended into vegetable smoothies or cut into very thin slices incorporated into slaws… not as chunks in a salad.)

Here’s how beets look like, fresh vs. chopped up:

I love beets. I forgot how much I love them until I told my friend, Cat, who is way better at cooking than me, about my beet incident. It’s like one of those food that you don’t have very often but whenever you do, you are like why don’t I eat this more often? It wasn’t until we started talking about beets that I realized how underrated beets are! It’s not a very common or popular vegetable. It’s lightly sweet, slightly juicy and has the texture almost like a pear’s or a raw nectarine’s. There is an earthy note to it that gives it an acquired taste, hence why a lot of people find it weird. You can usually find them fresh in markets, in canned forms in supermarkets, or lightly sautéed or roasted (aka not raw) and placed on top of salads in restaurants.

My mom makes Chinese beet soup – and that was how I got introduced to beets at a young age. In Chinese we called them hong cai tou (紅菜頭), literally meaning red-headed vegetable. The soup is bright red or pink in color, and it amazes me how something so odd-looking can be so delicious. My mom cooks the beets with pork, corn, carrots, and other miscellaneous, elusive Chinese ingredients in a big pot of boiling water, and waits for the flavors to simmer for hours until voilà, you get this beautiful, red liquid. It’s a weird combination of sweet and savory, a flavor that cannot be justified with words.

And after the soup is finished, the remains of the boiled beets are at their utmost tenderness, wonderfully sweet with all their flavors brought out by the hours of boiling. Nothing completes a bowl of beet soup quite like some beets themselves.

I learned two things from my first time handling a beet. One, my cooking skills still got a long way to go. Two, beets are truly delicious.

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The remaining half of my peeled, raw, sad-looking beet.
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