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Discerning Diner:
In culinary circles, a good beet is hard to beat
By Elan Head

October 22, 2005

I normally think of myself as being very comfortable in the kitchen.

I mean, I spend a lot of time there. I can scramble eggs or chop onions or whisk dressing — or all three — without giving a lot of thought to it.

Heck, I even hang out in the kitchen at parties.

On a recent Saturday, however, I found myself feeling very incompetent indeed in the kitchen of the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale, home to the wonderful restaurant Acacia.

The resort has a program dubbed “Saturday Night Live,” in which food geeks like myself can strap on an apron and play professional chef for a night (and pay for the privilege of doing it).

I only spent a few hours in the kitchen, but it was enough to come away impressed with the effort, logistics and primo ingredients that go into Acacia’s every plate.

Not to mention the skill. I was assigned a couple of no-brainer tasks: chopping heirloom tomatoes to accompany a Humboldt Fog goat cheese tart, and peeling the roasted beets for an arugula salad.

Have I peeled beets before? You bet. Have I ever thought of myself as particularly slow at doing it? Not really.

But slow is apparently what I am. As the assured line-cooks bustled around me, I fumbled with my beets. Executive chef Simon Purvis would walk away for a while, and when he came back, I would still be peeling beets.

Still peeling beets.

Still peeling beets.

Oh well. I had a lot of fun, and I finished the night with an excellent and indulgent meal in the restaurant, a milieu in which I felt absolutely at home.

But back to those beets. They were a pleasant reminder that fall is at hand, and with it, a lot of great harvest produce.

Beets still seem to be a neglected vegetable at home, even though the beet and blue cheese (or goat cheese) salad has become something of a restaurant staple.

Yet they’re pretty easy to prepare, and even easy to peel, provided you judge your performance by amateur standards.

The trick is to roast rather than boil them. Roasting concentrates their natural sweetness (it also contains the mess).

It’s simple to do. Scrub your beets reasonably clean, trim off any greens, and vent each beet in several places with a fork.

Fold a sheet of aluminum foil around the beets and set them on a baking pan. Roast at 400 degrees until the beets are easily pierced with a knife — from a half-hour for very small beets to an hour and a half for large ones. (It is far, far better to overcook beets than to undercook them.)

Let the beets cool. To peel, slice the tops and ends off with a paring knife, then use the same knife to cut away the skin. It should come off pretty readily (if not, well, quickly).

At Acacia, I used a mandoline to slice the beets extremely thin. What a great idea: it kept them from weighing down the delicate salad.

If you want a beet to sink your teeth into, slice each one into wedges as you would an apple.

Warm beets tossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper make a great side dish for chicken or pork.

Want a salad? Throw in any combination of bitter greens, crumbled blue or goat cheese, sliced roasted pears and/or candied pecans.

Delicious, and the best part is this: Nobody’s timing you.




































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