Beet Dip Good Enough to Please the Poles

Of all the underrated vegetables in the world (leeks, baby bok choy, fennel, brussels sprouts), I have convinced myself that none is more deserving of the title than beets. Having grown up in a Polish household where every lunch and dinner began with a bowl of soup, I probably had more borscht than every other child on my block combined. So it is embarrassing to admit that yesterday, at the not-so-tender age of twenty-six, was my first time cooking with beets.

Roasted Beet

Before I give up my Polish citizenship, allow me to explain. My mother’s borscht has always been so utterly satisfying and its flavors so perfectly balanced, that I never dared (and honestly, I still don’t dare) to attempt to make the staple dish of the Polish people–a liquid that is almost as ubiquitous as vodka is in the homeland–on my own. What I was waiting for was the perfect non-borscht beet recipe to try for myself. It needed to be something that was at least as good as mother’s cooking, and worth the inevitable pink-dyed everything that would result from working with beets in my kitchen.

Plated Beets

And I have found it. As with all great vegetable dishes, I should have figured out sooner that Ottolenghi was the man to turn to. His beet dip (made with greek yogurt, garlic, a smattering of spices, and, of all things, maple syrup) transcends all the boundaries of vegetables. It passes through so many dimensions that it is at once savory, spicy, and sweet. I put out a hefty plate with dinner last night, and it ended up licked clean. If I had admitted there was more of the dip in the fridge, that would surely be gone as well. I implore you–if there is one recipe from my site you will try this summer, this is it.

Starring Beets

Beet Dip

Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Makes about 5-10 servings

2 1/4 pounds beets

3 small cloves garlic, minced

1 small to medium red chile (depending on how much spice you want), seeded and chopped

1 1/4 cup greek yogurt

1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup

3 tablespoons olive oil (use a higher-quality olive oil if possible)

1 tablespoon zahtar

salt, to taste

green onions, thinly sliced, to garnish

feta cheese, sliced, to garnish

olive oil, to garnish

pita, for serving

In the PinkPreheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the beets on a roasting pan, and place in the oven for 60-75 minutes, until a knife can easily go through them. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before peeling and cutting into large chunks.

Beets Beets

Combine the beets, garlic, chile, and yogurt in a food process. Blend until a very smooth paste is formed.

Chile Beets

Place the mixture in a bowl, and add the maple syrup, olive oil, zahtar, and one teaspoon of salt. Use a spoon to mix together well. Taste and add more zahtar and/or salt, as needed.

Mixing Beets

Garnish with green onions, feta, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with warm pita bread and watch it all disappear before your eyes.

Plated Beats

Black Pepper and Blue Cheese Gougeres

Christmas Eve is all about cookies. Or is it about portable, bite-sized treats, be they sweet or savory? I have to think that at some point Santa (and dinner guests) grow tired of all the sweet and decadent goodies associated with Christmas Eve, and desire something lighter, sharper, and saltier–sacrilegious as that may sound.

Gougere

Enter googers! Actually, gougeres (though I cannot tell you how to pronounce that). Made with blue cheese and wine (and a good spat of butter), these puffs are unlike any other recipe I have seen. They need to be cooked in a pan until they form a “ball” and require a tiny scooper to get out of the bowl and onto the baking sheet. But overall, they are a breeze to put together, and equally easy to scarf down. They puff up delightfully in the oven, making each bite you take feel more airy and less sinful than it can actually be. But, heck, it isn’t time for New Year’s resolutions yet. Let them eat gougeres!

Now with Blue Cheese

Not Mashed Potatoes

Black Pepper and Blue Cheese Gougeres

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes about 25 to 20 gougeres

4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup water

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

1 cup blue cheese, crumbled

4 eggs

Maldon salt and pepper, for garnish

Gougere Booger    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter and Wine

Heat the butter, wine, and water in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Once the mixture is melted and slightly bubbling, remove from heat, and mix in the flour, salt, and pepper. Place saucepan back on the heat, and use a wooden spoon to move around the mixture until it farms a ball. This will take about a minute, and you’ll know you’re done when there is a slight film on the saucepan.

Butter and Wine and Flour

Place the mixture in a an electric mixer and let cool for a few minutes. Add the blue cheese and beat into the mixture on low speed. Then, add the eggs one at a time, beating them in on medium speed, and scraping down the bowl with a spoon between each egg addition.

Gougere Boogers

Use a tiny ice cream scoop to scoop about one-tablespoon mounds of the mixture onto baking sheets that have been lined with parchment paper. There should about about an inch and a half between each mound. Sprinkle each mound with a touch of salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the gougeres are puffed, golden brown, and dry to the touch. Serve warm or at room temperature. Gougeres can be frozen or stored in an airtight container for several days.

Gougeres

Festive Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms and Christmas Eve in Review

This year’s Christmas Eve (and Christmas, if you’re into that sort of thing) was a raging success. The borscht and vodka flowed freely, Sto Lat was sung at least a half of a dozen times, and the seven-plus fish (Harry and I counted ten) were thoroughly feasted upon. All new guests passed the Fish in Gelatin Challenge (a feat in which one must eat unflavored fish cooked in unflavored gelatin–my father’s favorite dish, everyone else’s nightmare) and are welcome to future Christmas Eves.

Barszcz z Uszkami

Fish in Gelatin

In fact, minus a small hiccup on Christmas morning after my mother swallowed a fish bone and we spent a few hours in the ER (she is totally fine now, I swear, we even went to Christmas dinner afterwards), the only being that seemed anything less that utterly satisfied with the festivities was this little guy, who had to be caged for “his own” protection, and made a valiant escape effort when he was briefly let out for his annual Christmas carrot feast.

Bunnnnniiiiiii

And while I’d like to take some credit for the evening’s fun and tasty times, I know it was mostly pulled off because of the weeks of planning and food preparation that Mommy Anigacz put in. From gutting dozens of pounds of fish, to sealing hundreds of pierogis and mushroom dumplings, to decorating the house and buying presents, Mommy Anigacz had a busy December. Thank you, Mommy Anigacz, for your tireless efforts at orchestrating Christmas Eves–this year’s Christmas Eve, like all previous ones and ones yet to come, was memorable. Please keep it up for at least a few more years–I am so overwhelmed and not anywhere close to ready to take over preparing this feast.

The Pre-Appetizers

The Cold Fish Round

Christmas Breakfast

In comparison to the twenty or so dishes that my mother prepared, Harry and I contributed a meager two. And while they may not have been enough to feed a crowd, they surely seemed like crowd-pleasers–and boy did they look festive. My constant admonitions to guests to pace themselves as they ate were heard, and both our goat-cheese stuffed mushrooms (recipe below) and red wine chocolate cake with mascarpone frosting and sea salt flakes (recipe coming soon), were almost completely finished. Glad you liked them, everyone, and so glad you could come and celebrate with the Anigacz’s!

Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

Merry Christmas!

Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes 28 stuffed mushrooms

Olive oil, enough to thinly coat a baking sheet

28 white button mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed

3 slices white bread

2 cloves garlic

7 ounces soft goat cheese

1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves

1/2 red bell pepper

1/2 green bell pepper

A little less than 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Thinly coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Don’t use too much oil, or else it will start smoking in the oven.

Pulse the bread and garlic in a food processor until it has turned into fine crumbs. Remove and save 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs.

Ready for Crumbing

Homemade Breadcrumbs

Add the cheese, peppers, parsley, red pepper flakes, and salt to the remaining bread crumbs in the food processor. Pulse until combined. it may be easiest to do this in batches. If your goat cheese is very soft, you may want to process the other ingredients in the food processor, and then combine those with the soft cheese in a separate bowl. Just do what you have to do to get all of the ingredients combined.

Festive Peppers

Ready to Be Pulverized

Fill the mushrooms with the goat cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the reserved bread crumbs.

The Cheese Stuffing is Pulverized

Place on baking sheet, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the mushrooms and breadcrumbs have browned. Let cool for 10 minutes, and make sure to use a plate when eating–these mushrooms are juicy!

Festive Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms