Green Plum Cooking School – June 5th, 2010
For my entire career, I’ve been dealing with people’s intense feelings about beets. If you read this blog with any regularity, you’ve heard me go on about this.
My customers either really like beets or really, really, really hate beets. I now refer to these feelings in Dr. Phil-speak: I call them “Family of Origin Beet Issues.” Or FOBI(AS). FOBIAS usually start after someone’s mother or grandmother forced them to eat a canned beet. Then there are those who wrinkle their noses just thinking about having to cook them and getting “dirty.”
I see it as my job to continue to push your FOBIA buttons, like I continue to push everything (just ask my mother). So, today, we’re doing Beets – Three Ways. As the class starts, I – and the audience – realize at the same time that I may have pushed it too far! I tell them, “Don’t worry, once I plate these beets, you’ll see how my mind works.” Funny, but this is the last full sentence I utter for the rest of the class.
The first recipe I make starts with a pesto. But not a regular old pesto – this one calls for bread soaked in vinegar in place of cheese. We are using marjoram as the main herb in the pesto. Marjoram is in the mint family and tastes like oregano.
For some reason, I’m talking in a series of Monica half-ideas and snippets of sense. It’s not even Monica-speak. It sounded a little bit like this:
“We got a little hole” (I still have no idea what I was talking about here)
“We’re fine” (hoping we’re fine I guess, maybe about the fear of holes)
“Silence is golden” (I was referring to the golden beets I was using and the audience)
“I’ve never had such an annoying class” (???)
“I’m only going to taste y’all on the….but….” (???)
“Beet it” (explaining my next tee-shirt slogan)
“I don’t really like to do a lid with my beets” (some cooking tip, I guess)
“Just say no to acid” (I was talking about my beet & arugula salad; I don’t like using an acid, like vinegar, directly on the arugula. Instead, I use a flavored oil, like pistachio, almond or walnut, and add citrus, like orange, for the acid)
“Let’s focus for a second” (me trying to; me blaming the audience)
“I’m not using this crack bowl…I thought it was a pipe” (the beets made me fall back on drug references for some reason)
“Too much sparkle…mud pies” (I think this had to do with Lili’s performance with Hope Stone and her rock group, called the Mud Pies, but how it got into this class, I don’t know)
“I like to express myself” (…but having trouble today! I’d like to blame my Family of Origin Beet Issues now)
Enough of that. I think you get the picture, right?
Back to the beets.
You can boil beets or bake them, essentially steaming them in a little water while they’re on a sheet pan in the oven. Boiling makes them sweeter, while baking lends an earthier flavor. You know they are done when the skin comes off easily when scraped with your fingernail and a paring knife goes in easily.
Here’s a good rule of thumb for you: all you really need to make a lovely salad is 3-5 focused ingredients. Don’t over-do it. Flavors get confusing and your taste buds can’t take it.
My friend Dr. Reeta brought me sour spinach today. Sour spinach is traditionally grown in Bengal; Reeta’s grandmother grew it in her garden and somehow, the seeds got here to Houston. I take the sour spinach gift, dressed with olive oil and salt and pepper, and scatter it on a plate. The spinach has a lemony flavor, somewhere between sorrel and regular spinach. I quarter the beets for this dish, tossing them in the marjoram pesto. I then take some more pesto and thin it with olive oil to drizzle around the plate.
The second beet dish is a riff on a classic in my kitchen: Beet, Orange and Walnut Salad. My staff affectionately calls this salad “The Old Beet Salad” because we have been doing it at all of my restaurants for over 15 years. It goes like this: we take a little baby frisee (even after all these years, I still have to remind my staff over and over again that it isn’t a frisee salad, but a beet salad), dress it with our sherry-walnut vinaigrette, and mix in candied walnuts and cambazola (camembert with a streak of gorgonzola). To plate, I lay slices of boiled beets, about five, fanning them in the middle of the plate, leaving a border around the plate for the mandarin orange sauce. The frisee mixture gets placed in the middle of the beets, but you’re still able to see the sliced beets. It is a very composed salad despite the fact that I’ve lost all composure at this point.
The last beet salad preparation includes baby arugula, pineapple mint (another gift from Dr. Reeta), pistachio oil, beets, goat cheese and candied sesame. I drizzle the pistachio oil on the plate then toss the beets and arugula with salt and pepper and olive oil, garnish with edible flower petals, dollops of goat cheese and candied sesame on top. I do a quick chiffonade of pineapple mint and sprinkle on top.
Despite my inability to express myself today, I am impressed beyond words by the approval of the audience (expressed in mmmmm’s and ohhhhhh’s) as they bravely go where few people dare to go – into the deep, dark, recesses of their FOBIAS – to taste three different variations of beet salad. And they like it, they really like it.
NOTE: The recipes used in my Green Plum Cooking School classes can be found in my online cookbook, “Eat Where Your Food Lives,” available for purchase at www.ChefMonicaPope.com