Let’s Talk Food: The versatile beet

Chef Agustin Rios of Ponds Hilo restaurant asked me to write about beets. If I haven’t already, it might be because, although I love them, they are not my husband Jim’s favorite food.

Beets are very versatile and can be an ingredient in a salad, be pickled, used as a relish and added to potatoes to make latkes.

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Beets are a great source of Vitamin C, dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, iron, Vitamin B6 and folate. The phytonutrients called betalains provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification qualities. These same phytonutrients have been found in recent lab studies to reduce tumor cell growth by inhibiting the pro-inflammatory enzymes. The tumor cell types tested included those from colon, stomach, nerve, lung, breast, prostate and testicular tissue. Although there is no real proof that beets can cure cancer, the results of these studies are promising to look even closer at the value of betanins.

About 10 percent to 15 percent of adults might experience beeturia, or reddening of the urine, after eating beets everyday. It is not considered to be harmful, but might be an indicator to check with your physician about an off-balance of iron-related problems, either too little or too much iron.

Chef Ed Kenney of Mud Hen Water on Oahu does this beet “poke” at his restaurant.

Beet Poke with Avocado-Wasabi Mash

Serves: 6-8

2 1/2 pounds medium beets, scrubbed

1 navel orange, halved

One 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced and smashed

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

1/3 cup macadamia nuts

1/2 cup wakame seaweed

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1/2 cup very thinly sliced sweet onion

1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

2 Hass avocados, peeled, pitted and cut into large chunks

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons wasabi powder

1 golden beet, peeled and sliced paper thin, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set the beets in a baking dish. Squeeze the juice from the orange halves over the beets; add the orange halves and ginger to the dish. Drizzle the beets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the beets are tender. Let cool, then peel and cut into 1-inch pieces. Leave the oven on.

Toast the macadamia nuts in a pie plate until golden, about 10 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop. In a bowl, cover the wakame with cold water and let stand until rehydrated, about 5 minutes; drain. Rinse under cold water, then drain again.

In a large bowl, toss the beets with the wakame, toasted macadamia nuts, vinegar, sesame oil, onion and green onions. Season the poke with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until slightly chilled, about 15 minutes.

In another bowl, mash the avocados with the lemon juice, wasabi powder and 1 tablespoon water.

Season the avocado with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until chilled, about 15 minutes.

To serve, mound the poke on plates and garnish with the golden beet. Pass the avocado-wasabi mash at the table.

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You can make beet chips and serve them with your favorite dip.

Beet Chips and Turmeric- Yogurt Dip

Serves: 8

3 medium beets, peeled and sliced to 1/16-inch thickness on a mandoline

1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon onion powder

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

Line a large microwave-safe plate with paper towels. Working in batches, spread beet slices on towel-lined plate; microwave at high for 3 minutes or until crisp.

Combine yogurt and remaining ingredients; stir well. Serve dip with beet chips.

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Beets also can be an ingredient for dessert. Here is a beet cake from Michel Nischan.

Beet Cake with Bourbon Sauce

Serves: 6

Cake:

3 medium beets, boiled

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Finely grated rind of one lemon

Custard:

3 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup milk, warmed

3/4 cup heavy cream, warmed

3 tablespoons bourbon or whiskey

Sweetened whipped cream, for serving

Cake: Peel and chop two of the beets, then puree them in a mini food processor. Peel and shred the remaining beet.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-by-15-inch jelly roll pan and line it with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg with sugar at high speed until tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. Beat in the oil and zest. Fold in the pureed and shredded beets, then gradually fold in the dry ingredients. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake the cake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Custard: Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a saucepan. In a stainless steel bowl, whisk the yolks and sugar until thickened. Whisk in the warm milk and cream. Set the bowl over (not in) the simmering water and whisk over moderate heat until the custard is very thick, about 8 minutes. Chill the custard in a an ice bath, then stir in the bourbon. Cut the cake into squares and layer with the custard. Top with whipped cream, serve.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.