Roasted Beets: Three Variations on a Theme Plus a Footnote

These three ideas come from the “Three Bowl Cookbook: The Secrets of Enlightened Cooking from the Zen Mountain Center” by Tom Pappas, long-term tenzo (cook) at the monestary. In Buddhist monasteries, meals are served in three bowls, reflecting the original alms bowls of mendicant monks. Tom writes: “Dogen Zenji said ‘Preparing food is offering the great assembly comfort and ease’.”

**For All Variations: Wrap beets tightly in aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for about an hour until they are fork tender (or steam or boil on the top of the stove if you don’t want to heat up the oven). When cool enough to handle, peel and cut into large chunks. Then proceed with one of the variations.

Variation 1: Ralph’s Beets with Mint. For 2 lbs beets, mix the juice of 1/2 lemon with a handful of fresh mint torn into pieces, add salt and a tiny bit of olive oil. Can also add zest from the lemon if you like. Mix with the beets and serve.

Variation 2: Roasted Beets with Balsamic Vinegar. Toss the chunked beets with balsamic vinegar to taste and serve.

Variation 3: Roasted Beets and Greens. Cook the beet tops in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes, then drain and plunge into cold water. Drain and squeeze out as much water as you can, then chop the greens and set aside. Heat olive oil in a cast iron pan and sauté the greens until softened. Add the cooked beets and the juice from 1/2 lemon to the pan and toss. Season with salt and pepper and serve. NOTE: if you don’t have presentable beet tops, sauté chopped chard or spinach instead. No need to parboil it first.

FOOTNOTE: In Maine, where my father’s side of the family comes from, “beet greens” are a special springtime treat. Baby beets, no larger than 1 or 1 1/2 inch, are lightly scraped with a paring knife, whisker roots trimmed, then steamed briefly with their tops still attached. Be very careful not to overcook. Serve hot with butter or cold with a few drops of vinegar.

You will probably have to grow your own baby beets in Philadelphia because <sniff> none of our local farmers sell beets this young.

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