Food & Drink | October 2018

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

The Underdogs

We recently attended the first birthday party for Thomas Orval Cowart at The Gathering Place in Colmesneil, Texas, which is about an hour north of Beaumont. (The population of Colmesneil is 584, so about 10 percent of the town was at this party.) Thomas is the son of Abby’s niece Clara and her husband, Brandon. It was a midafternoon celebration, so guests were treated to party fare such as chicken feed (it was actually Chex mix), cow patties (which were really brownies; we had a cow-and-barnyard theme going here), haystacks and veggie trays. The cold milk in individual serving-size glass bottles was a nice touch as well.

At the end of the party, family members were dividing up leftovers to take home, and we happily took the remains of the vegetable trays. Later, back in Waco, we combined the celery and carrots with some frozen chicken parts we had been saving, a couple of onions, a few garlic cloves and some bay leaves and peppercorns. All that went into a big pot of water and simmered overnight on the stove, and we ended up with 31 cups of chicken stock. We roasted the broccoli and cauliflower for dinner a few nights later and used the cherry tomatoes in a pasta sauce.

That left us with a bunch of radishes. I’m pretty sure that prior to this, we had never had that many radishes in our kitchen before. I can’t remember the last time we had any radishes in our kitchen, so we were kind of at a loss as to what to do with them. So we started thinking about
underappreciated vegetables besides radishes. I voted to include cauliflower in this category, saying that no one ever eats the stuff, but was overruled. When we owned a catering company many years back, we would put together cascading fruit and vegetable displays for wedding receptions. We usually included squash, zucchini, broccoli, carrots, cherry tomatoes and cauliflower on the vegetable side, and we would always, always have more cauliflower left over than anything else on the table. I always liked to say that nobody eats the stuff, but Abby pointed out that we had, indeed, eaten the cauliflower that we had brought home from Thomas’ party, and it really wasn’t bad.

It’s simple to roast broccoli and cauliflower. Just toss with some olive oil and sprinkle on salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then place in a 400-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender. I like to splash on some Tabasco or Sriracha as well.

So that left us with radishes, and then we added beets to the underappreciated category. Abby and our daughter, Sophie, recently volunteered at a local food pantry, and as folks came through the line, they took the cauliflower that was offered to them, but most politely declined a bunch of beets, saying they didn’t know how to prepare them. That makes sense. We’ve only had beets a couple of times that I can remember, and however we fixed them was obviously so underwhelming that I can’t recall what exactly we did with them. (Carol Perry, my colleague at Baylor, did bring beet deviled eggs to a potluck meal once, and they were lovely. Just the very rims of the deviled eggs had taken on some color from the beet juice.)

The beauty of both the beet and the radish is that the entire plant can be eaten. In fact, the greens from the tops of beets were consumed for centuries before French chefs began roasting the beet root itself in the 1800s. Beets have kind of an earthy flavor that some folks find off-putting, but these recipes, all of them new to us, turned out well. The dirt-like taste, and sometimes aroma, of beets is caused by the presence of geosmin, an organic compound with a unique flavor and smell. It’s that same geosmin that gives the air its distinct smell after a good rain.

One way to mitigate that earthy, sometimes bitter flavor is to combine beets with flavors such as apple, Dijon mustard, fennel or citrus. A squeeze of lemon, orange or grapefruit over a salad that contains raw beet will enhance the natural sweetness of the beet.

One tip, however: When you’re working with beets, don’t wear a white shirt that you care about, and do wear plastic gloves. Otherwise, you’ll have red hands for a few hours.

When you’re chopping the beets, use a plastic cutting board that can be washed and bleached clean. Beet stains are nearly impossible to remove from wooden cutting boards, and you really don’t want to get beet residue on a marble countertop. You’ll probably be out of luck in trying to get rid of that stain.

The Recipes

Sweet and Spicy Glazed Lamb

  • Green tops of 1 bunch of beets, chopped
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 shallot, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon sambal oelek
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 pounds lamb chops
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil

To make the glaze, place beet greens, syrup, vinegar, shallot, garlic, sambal oelek and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until liquid has reduced by half and vegetables are soft. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and discard the pulp. Return the liquid to the saucepan and bring back to a boil. Reduce the liquid to half. Set aside to allow to cool and thicken.

Heat oven to 350 F.

Line a baking sheet with foil and place a wire rack on top. Place the lamb chops on the rack.

Mix together the lemon zest and salt and use to liberally season the lamb chops. Add black pepper to taste. Press the seasonings into the surface of the meat. Turn chops over and repeat.

Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake until the internal temperature of the lamb is 125 F, for about 20 minutes. Remove pan from the oven.

Place a cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add enough olive oil just to coat the pan. Place the lamb chops in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Return the chops back to the sheet pan and brush on the glaze, using all the glaze. Turn the oven broiler to high and place the sheet pan under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, until the glaze begins to caramelize. Let chops rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes about 6 servings.
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Browned Butter Radishes

  • 2 bunches radishes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Heat oven to 450 F. Brush a baking sheet with olive oil. Cut off most of the green radish tops and rinse them well. Chop the greens and set them aside.

Cut the radishes in half and place in a medium bowl. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and toss to coat. Place the radishes, cut side down, on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt.

Roast the radishes, stirring occasionally, for about 18 minutes or until they are crisp-tender. Season to taste with more salt, if desired.

Melt the butter in a small, heavy skillet set over medium-high heat. Add a pinch of salt to the skillet and cook until the butter has browned, swirling the skillet frequently to keep the butter from burning, about 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir in lemon juice.

Place the roasted radishes in a serving bowl and drizzle on the browned butter. Sprinkle with the chopped radish tops and serve.

Makes about 4 servings.
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Beet Sangria

  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 1 cup beet juice (recipe follows)
  • 1/3 cup brandy
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 or 2 ounces orange liqueur
  • 1 apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1 pear, peeled and chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Place all the ingredients in a large pitcher and stir well. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours, or overnight. The longer sangria sits, the better the flavor.

Before serving, taste the sangria and add more syrup or orange liqueur if needed. Remove the cinnamon stick and discard. Serve over ice.

Makes about 8 servings.
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Beet Juice

  • 1 pound fresh beets, trimmed and peeled
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup water

Dice the beets into small pieces and place in a blender. Add 1/4 cup water and pulse until the mixture is nearly pureed. If the mixture is thick, add a bit more water and pulse a few more times.

Strain the juice through a cheesecloth or a fine mesh sieve. Press the pulp to release as much juice as possible. (Save the pulp to use in the following recipe.) This should make a little more than 1 cup of juice. Use all the juice to make the sangria.
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Chocolate-Beet Bread

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups beet pulp
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts

Heat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla. Add the beet pulp and mix. Then add the dry ingredients and nuts and mix together well.

Spray two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans with nonstick spray. Pour the batter evenly into the pans and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the loaves comes out clean.

Makes 2 loaves.
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