We eat a lot of beets in this house - year round, thanks to the good farmers of our area, and the variety is stunning - sharp, striped Chiogga, sweet and mild Golden, plump and staining Ox Blood. But I'm on the edge of a dry run in the kitchen (translation=burn out), and, P.S. it is mother-truckin' hotter than dirt here, and I am not about to turn on the stove or oven to soften those golden and pink babies up for our salads.
Raw is the way to go.
Raw beets never occurred to me until I realized they just needed a little love from a good dressing to soften up and release a bit of their own sugar. Straight raw beets certainly don't taste too good to me, no matter how thin I shave them, right off the knife. An assertive dressing was just the task-master these lumpy honeys needed. The combination really is a little bit of love synergy, unsuspecting parts flowing together in a simple, simple way that leaves us happily fed and the kitchen cool: a vibrant reward for a well-meaning but slightly lazy cook. As poetry, this salad is a simple haiku - unadorned, quick, and soul-satisfying. The kids love this one, but I warn you, put them in dirty, dark clothing - the stuff is awfully pink and juicy, and it likes to dribble. Or get 'em naked, bohemian-style, and have yourself a beetfest.
Raw Beet Salad
If you don't have access to jicama, leave it out. Kohlrabi would be another perfect addition, as would a tart apple - extending the season of this salad well into fall. The inherent sweetness of the beets lends the dressing - on the acidic, full-bodied side - just the softening it needs. Resist the urge to sweeten up the dressing before you blend it into the salad. If you simply can't stomach the dressing as it is, add 1 tsp of raw honey.
I think fish sauce is essential to the success of the flavors here. Ever since reading The Splendid Table it wiggles its way into a good portion of my cooking. Do not fear the fish sauce (buy a good one without preservatives or soy. I like Phu Quoc - "Flying Horse on Earth Brand". Pretty sure I bought it for the name alone. It lives forever in the refrigerator). A reasonable substitution might be a few anchovy fillets or some coconut aminos, but then I can no longer vouch for the yum factor. Yes, most fish sauces have a small amount of sugar in them. Fish sauce is a fermented food and the sugar content is tiny. I'm at peace with my Flying Horse on Earth.
This salad has made the summer party rounds (the portions double well - just go easy on the fish sauce until you are sure you have the right balance), has hung out at the dinner table, and has found itself under a can of tuna, a wedge of salmon, or some smoked oysters as part of my breakfast or lunch. It keeps well for a few days, the flavors melding and the beets softening. I do recommend letting it chill for an hour or so after you mix it together, allowing the beets to marinate. It is good heaped on your plate like a slaw, or tossed with greens (if you have beets with the greens attached and they look crisp, use 'em!). I've thrown in a handful of tiny pear tomatoes and added ribbons of collards and kale to give it some bite - but I promise you, it is good just the way it is, and dead easy. You can go technophile on it and do all the mixing and grating in a food processor, or you can cook mindfully, slow it down, and grate and mix by hand (my personal choice. For whatever reason I seem to think it is less work to grate by hand then it is to wash the Cuisinart).
1/3 cup lime juice (2 limes)
1/3 cup olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fish sauce
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro or mint leaves
2 bunches (roughly 6 medium) beets, any variety, peeled
1/2 medium jicama, peeled
2-3 carrots(don't bother peeling)
Mix the dressing in a large bowl. The taste should be slightly salty and sour. If it lacks body, add fish sauce, up to one tablespoon. Whisk the dressing well, and then grate all the vegetables into the bowl and toss with the dressing. Chill and serve alone or on a bed of greens. Serves 4-6 as a generous side.
Prep time: 10 minutes, less if you use the food processor. One hour chill time.
Do tell me how you like this lazy bohemian beet poetry- in a haiku, if you are so inspired.