Beets and Leeks in Wine, Ancient Roman Style

This recipe comes from De Re Coquinaria (On Cookery) by the first century gourmand Apicius. Here, the wine, leeks, spices and honey subtly enhance the earthy flavor of the beets without overwhelming them, leaving only the taste of pure beet essence.

1/2 lb young whole beets
3 leeks, white part only
1/4 teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup beet stock
1/2 cup sweet white wine (Muscato or Rhine works well)
2 teaspoons honey or to taste

Boil or steam beets, drain, and reserve liquid. Peel, then cut into a 3/4 inch dice.

Using only the white part of the leeks, slice in half lengthwise, then in 1/2 inch slices. Swish in a large pot of water to remove sand.

In a mortar, pulverize cumin and peppercorns and add it to a saucepan along with the honey and the wine and stock. Simmer for five minutes to reduce a bit, then add the sliced leeks and beets. Cook, uncovered, until the leeks are very tender and the liquid is reduced further.

Serve at room temperature or chilled. A little whole milk yogurt is a very good accompaniment. This is even better the next day.

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