The gearhead is on to me about my plan to infiltrate his dinners with more vegetarian fare. Before this blog, he accepted the chance disappearance of meat at some of our meals, albeit warily, and usually with some comment alluding to his weakening state for lack of protein [wife edits: rolling eyes]. At this time of year, with the garden blooming gangbusters, it’s easy to come home at the end of the day, sashay through the rows of vegetables and wait for inspiration to strike. With a hungry tummy it doesn’t take very long.
Beets are one of the gearhead’s favourite vegetables. The kids and I love them too. Many people believe they taste a lot like the dirt they grow in and yes, there is a hint of mustiness and soil about them – most cookbooks call this “earthiness”. Beets are wonderfully solid, often taking an hour of simmering or roasting to soften them up. Here though, they’re grated raw, bleeding their crimson juices on anything they touch. I use a food processor to make quick (and clean) work of grating the beets – but if you don’t have one, place the grater in a large bowl and the splashes will be contained. Rub your rosy hands with a half lemon (and any other surfaces) and this will help to get the stains out.
This recipe for Beet Latkes is adapted from one for Beet Roesti in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I have made the roesti several times and it is just as good but being larger, a little more difficult to flip in one piece. And besides, I like the crusty bits on the outside and so adapting these to latke size increases the crusty outside to soft inside ratio. Normally I use olive oil for almost all cooking in my kitchen, but for this recipe, I switch to butter. The contrasting flavour of sweet beets with the nuttiness of browned butter really makes this dish. Of course you could choose either one or a combination of olive oil/butter – whatever you use will affect the finished flavour so a neutral oil might be preferable for some.
The ingredients here are deceivingly simple – I say this because the combination of rosemary and beet is absolutely eloquent and complex. Pair a few of these latkes with some chevre, the super market variety will work well [wife edits: if you can get it, the Quebec made Cendrillon is wonderful – it’s barn yardy smell seems to move excellently with the dirty garden shed aroma of beets – really it’s delicious] [gearhead edits: sounds gross]. Add some warm green beans scattered with walnuts, a salad, and you have a fantastically coloured, delicious, vegetarian meal [see wine pairing below the recipe]. [gearhead edits: you know I hate walnuts, they taste like gasoline] [wife edits: no, I didn’t know you hate walnuts, you never told me that] [gearhead edits: I tell you that every time we have walnuts…I can stand them if you bury them under something else][wife edits silently in her head: I’ll tell you where you can bury them…]
Beet Latkes with Rosemary
Makes 8 latkes for 4 people and takes 20-30 minutes
1-1 ½ pounds beets (about 4-5 medium sized with the green tops removed)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped finely
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup flour
Peel the beets and grate them in a food processor or by hand. Begin preheating a non stick skillet [wife edits: I use a 12 inch cast iron pan] over medium heat.
Toss the grated beets in a bowl with the rosemary and salt, then add about half the flour; toss well and then add the rest of the flour, then toss again.
Place a knob of butter in the skillet and heat until it turns a nut brown colour. Drop large spoonfuls of the beet mixture into the pan as you would a pancake. Turn the heat to medium high and cook until the bottom of the latkes are nicely crisped, 4-7 minutes. Flip the latkes and cook a for a little less time on the second side or until the second side is browned. Serve immediately.
Some of you readers suggested I add in some wine pairing suggestions, so here are some for this one. If you want to accentuate the sweet earthiness of the beets, then choose a pinot noir – old or new world will both work. Syrah/shiraz can work well here too – one that is deeply flavoured but not bludgeoned with crushed berry syrup as some new world ones can be sometimes. A wine with some whiff of garden shed works well. Dry Rieslings will pair nicely with the caramelized crunchiness of the latkes and also play nicely with the tart creaminess of the goat cheese.