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.
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.
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.
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
Preheat 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.
Combine the beets, garlic, chile, and yogurt in a food process. Blend until a very smooth paste is formed.
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.
Garnish with green onions, feta, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with warm pita bread and watch it all disappear before your eyes.