There are two types of people: Those who love beets, those who hate beets. But the gap between these two groups shouldn't be so great. In fact, there might not be a gap at all if roasted beets got to people's palates before pickled beets ruined them.
I say this because I used to be in the hating group. Both my parents bred an intense loathing of the vegetable into our family. The image of the fuchsia-staining, salad-bar variety of pickled beets is hard to overcome.
My first taste of unscathed beets was in Paris at a Lebanese food stand. They were chopped up in a wrap full of other roasted vegetables, doused in a yogurty dressing. I liked it, but never told my parents. I figured it could be a fluke. Or just Europe.
Years later...close to a decade later, I tasted the most delicious bit of beet seated proudly on a goat cheese cushion atop a raw round of summer squash. All three ingredients were acquired locally at a farm in Georgia. I gobbled up the amuse bouche. And again. And again. The beet flavor was unlike what I had remembered from childhood, though I never dared challenge what I had been taught about the purple devils. This time around it tasted like a parsnip, raspberry and sweet potato had a threesome.
Now that I have immersed myself in Crescent Dragonwagon's "Passionate Vegetarian," I am forced to make recipes that perhaps I would ordinarily skip over. Basic Baked Beets (PV, p. 701) is one of them. Olives will be another, eventually. Guest blogger, anyone?
Dragonwagon, too, waxes philosophical on beets. She loves them, but cautions against the jarred or canned "sad-sack, limpid purple ovals." Indeed.
Her method is simple: Fresh beets, stems removed, rubbed in olive oil, wrapped in foil, placed in baking dish, roasted at 350 degrees, 35 minutes to done.
I ate the whole bulb, skins and stub of stems. I sauteed the beet leaves with a little sesame oil, salt and pepper. I flanked the plate with some of Dragonwagon's Greek-Style Summer Squash (p. 799), also delicious, especially as I let the vibrant magenta beet juice marble the dish.
I shake my head at how closed-minded I was about beets in the first place. What had they ever done to me? My dislike was rooted in fear and ignorance, for to know beets is to love them.
I've been told the French use beet juice as a food coloring for strawberry milkshakes because of some restrictions on red dye. I have historically hated almost everything pink- or red-colored or flavored, conjuring images of Kool-Aid mustaches on bratty children. But who knows? Relishing a baked beet may be the first step to overcoming these childish hang-ups.
Now if I could only eat an olive without shuddering...