For the past few months, I’ve been on a non-stop beet binge. I must admit that, with all of the attention beets had been given in every little hipster kitchen and all across the blogosphere, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. If you yourself have not fully explored the wonders of beets, I will serve as a messenger come back from the other side to say, with complete confidence and excitement: beets are immeasurably versatile, nutritious, and most importantly, damn delicious.
But if you’re really gonna try out this whole beet thing, you’re gonna have to throw away your notion of what beets are. And that means you’ll need to throw away the image you have stored away of a can of beets being opened and then sucking and gurgling their way out onto a serving plate, all in one cohesive, gyrating mass, indented with corrugations of the rusted aluminum can in which they sat for (no doubt) years, ribbed for your pleasure. That must go.
I’d like to apologize to the folks at home, or to anyone who was offended by such an image. As a means to quell your repulsion, I will direct you to the very real, very natural, very earthly photographs of beets in just a few of their multifarious incarnations.
In an effort to rid myself of that memory and to help beets shed their tired cloak of shame, I’ve been treating them with all kinds of respect in my kitchen. Perhaps the simplest and most delicious way to prepare beets is to roast them. That’s right; lather them in a bit of oil, a generous sprinkling of salt, and wrap them in aluminum foil. Throw them in a 400 degree oven for about an hour. The result is strangely delicious, because beets, unlike most foods, don’t call out for seasoning. Sure, you can dress them up however you like (I’ve provided a recipe for that), but beets are so complex that they don’t really need much to make them taste incredible.
So here’s my thought for an interesting and satisfying way to serve beets: enter Golden Beet Tartare. Now, technically, a tartare implies that something is both finely chopped and also raw, as in steak tartare or tuna tartare. In this case, we will be working with beets that are not raw, but instead are roasted. This is a tartare in that the components are finely chopped, and that it begins with a briny and bright, egg-enriched emulsion. Also similar to a steak tartare, this dish has an assertive onion-y kick, thanks to freshly chopped scallion.
But the big difference is thus: a traditional steak tartare has a taste profile that pulls from the flavors of France: briny capers and anchovies, bright, snappy cornichons, dijon mustard, fresh parsley, and yellow onion. If you’re thinking, “screw this golden beet tartare! I want to make the real thing!” then look here. If you’re still with me, great. To give the beet tartare some interest, it’s flavors center more on those of asia: toasty sesame oil, rich soy, rice wine vinegar, chopped scallion, and hot chili oil. You need to eat this.
Golden Beet Tartare
2 medium-sized golden beets, roasted
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup safflower or vegetable oil
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsps soy sauce
2 tsps rice wine vinegar
1/2 bunch chopped green onion, green only
few sprigs of cilantro
hot chili oil
Remove the greens from the beets, but don’t toss them. They can be cooked down in the same way you might cook collard greens. Give the beets a good wash, but don’t peel them. Coat them in oil and salt them liberally. Then wrap each one in aluminum foil. Place them on a pan in a 400 degree oven for about an hour. Once done, let them cool in the fridge.
Meanwhile, let’s make our sauce. This one start with an egg yolk. Crack the egg and separate the yolk from the white, using your hands. With minimal space between your fingers, the white should naturally pull away from the yolk. Place the yolk in a large mixing bowl.
Okay, so now we’re gonna make something very similar to a mayonnaise or an aioli. That means our goal is to mix the oil into the yolk, so that the two thicken and emulsify into a thick sauce. In everything I’ve ever read on aioli or mayonnaise, the advice seems to be that one should whisk the crap out of it. But I’ve found the contrary to be true.
Pour in the oil a few drops at a time, all the while stirring slowly to incorporate the oil and the egg. As you continue, you’ll start to notice long strands of proteins in the yolk being strengthened by fats in the oil. If you’ve done your job right, once all the oil has been slowly poured in and well mixed, the sauce should adhere to the whisk when it is held up. Into your emulsion, add the toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and chopped green onion. Mix well.
Once the beets have chilled, remove the outer skin (this can be done most easily with your fingertips). This slice the beets into thin rounds. Cut down through these rounds to make long, thin strips. Then slice again, so that the long strips become tiny cubes. When well chopped, mix the beets with the sauce, ensuring that the mixture is well incorporate.
Plate the tartare immediately, garnish with cilantro and hot chili oil. Serve with toasted bread, or, to continue the asian theme, eat them with toasted nori crackers.