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Lucy Mercer

Lucy Mercer
Location
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Birthday
December 31
Bio
I cook, I write, I carpool. You may also find my words at A Cook and Her Books. Email acookandherbooks@gmail.com. Thanks for visiting!

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SEPTEMBER 19, 2010 2:04PM

Beets don't fail me now

Rate: 7 Flag

 

  pickled beets

Ruby red beets are the jewels of the earth, with a sweetish mineral taste reminiscent of soil and for any kid whose ever busted his lip, blood. I love beets, but I can’t help thinking of the word geophagy when I eat them. Geophagy is the consumption of soil in order to satisfy a nutritional need, such as sulfur or phosphorus; it's quite literally eating dirt. Geophagy is a form of pica, the craving of non-food items. In my mind, eating beets is a socially acceptable form of geophagy - it’s as if the beets soak up all that mineral goodness from the dirt and concentrate it in the roots, giving beets an unmistakably earthy taste.

Besides the earthiness, beets are satisfyingly nutritious and I'm probably in the minority saying that the red juice is one of my favorite aspects of the vegetable. I like the purplish red splotches on my hands after handling beets, the deeper stains in my cuticles.  (I also like the smell of garlic on my hands and can’t imagine why anyone would want to wash it away - that sharp pungent smell wakes up my senses, like lavender or rosemary and reminds me that I've been cooking.)

I’m pretty sure I didn’t knowingly eat a beet until my adult years, and now the vegetable make regular appearances on my dinner table. Sometimes roasted, when the fresh ones are available in the fall, excellent paired with a creamy horseradish sauce; but usually in the pickled form, because my youngest daughter adores pickled beets, and will boldly pick them off her fellow diners' salad plates.

Pickled beets are delicious in many salads, especially a Greek salad - a bed of lettuce, a handful of pepper rings, some olives and feta and slices of pickled beets accompanied by an oregano-accented vinaigrette. I make an amazing Greek salad for company that features pickled beets. The inpsiration is a Tarpon Springs Greek salad with patatosalata, a potato salad that begins with potatoes soaked in red wine vinegar. I garnish this salad with shrimp and homemade pickled beets - pushing the potato salad and shrimp to the corners and piling the vinegary sanguine beets in the center.

Tarpon Springs is on the Florida Gulf Coast, famous for Greek bakeries and sponge diving and this style of Greek salad. On vacation in Florida, if I find a Greek diner, I’ll order this salad, and it’s almost always good, but there’s never enough pickled beets, and horrors, sometimes the beets are not even pickled. My favorite version is from Athenian Gardens in St. Petersburg, Florida. The potato salad is just right. It’s a subtle thing - at first you think it’s bland, but then you can’t get enough of it. This salad has everything - salty feta and olives,  sweet shrimp, vinegary pickled beets, crunchy sharp peppers.

  greek salad

 

Pickled Beets

This recipe is adapted from "American Home Cooking" by Cheryl Alters Jamison & Bill Jamison (Broadway, 1999). I used canned beets because my market was out of fresh and I figured a beet trek would expand my carbon footprint unnecessarily. The canned beets were delicious, and I’m sure the fresh beets would be, too.

2 (15 oz.) cans whole beets, drained and sliced ¼ inch thick  or 1 pound fresh beets, trimmed, sliced ¼ inch thick and steamed for 20 minutes or until tender

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

½ cup red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a glass or plastic bowl, combine beets, sugar, horseradish and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Store in refrigerator.

greek salad shrimp

 

Greek Potato Salad (Patatosalata)

6 medium red potatoes

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

4  green onions, finely chopped

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Cook unpeeled potatoes in unsalted water until tender, about 20 minutes; let cool just enough so that you can handle them. Using a towel to protect your hand, peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Place in bowl and sprinkle with vinegar and salt, add chopped green onions and toss. Stir in green onions and mayonnaise. Season to taste and mix well. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

 

Vinaigrette


6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1. Whisk all ingredients together. Store in refrigerator.

 

Greek Salad with Pickled Beets, Shrimp and Patatosalata
Serves 4
At the height of summer, fresh diced tomato and cucumber would be excellent in this. Don't bother with out of season tomatoes.
 

1 head Romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

1 small red pepper, cut into thin rings

½  cup Kalamata olives

1 pound shrimp, boiled for 2 minutes in water with lemon.

2 ounces feta cheese, cut into ¼ inch thick slabs

Pickled beets

Patatosalata (Greek potato salad)

1. On a large platter, spread out lettuce. In sections, place ingredients - pepper rings, olives, shrimp, patatosalata, feta and pickled beets. Serve salad with dressing alongside.

Text and images © 2010, Lucy Mercer.

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Comments

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A meal on its own, Lucy. Cool and colorful . ~R
Okay, it's official. I am now REALLY HUNGRY! And I want to go to the beach. Nobody makes salads like Greek salads. Yum-m-m. Rated :)
Lucy, this looks like a great combination of flavors, colors, and textures to complement your sanguine beets (love that!).
Friends, thanks for reading. I just changed the title because I truly hated the first one I posted.

Linda: the use of sanguine was especially for you.

Theresa: I'm so sentimental for the beach right now, because September is the best month for Florida! Not going to happen now that the kids are in school.

Fusun: I'd love for you to share this salad with me, Fusun!
Beets aren't really Southern, are they? I was an adult before I had them too. But I adore them! My family isn't quite as affectionate. If I make your salad, I'll make it for one -- or two -- since my friend Sue will eat anything I make her eat!
Lucy, this looks great. I love a good greek salad, too. Yum! I, too, miss the beach... sigh. I didn't know how well I had it when my boys were still in preschool and we could just hop in the car whenever we felt like it. The image of your daughter snatching beets off others' plates is too funny -- my boys do it, too, only with french fries. :)
Lucy, your salads sound delicious--both summery and substantial. I've never had pickled beets in a Greek salad; it sounds like a fun variation. I also like the (temporary) look of beet juice on my nails (instant manicure!), and I never understood why so many find beets so problematic.
Lucy, your salads sound delicious--both summery and substantial. I've never had pickled beets in a Greek salad; it sounds like a fun variation. I also like the (temporary) look of beet juice on my nails (instant manicure!), and I never understood why so many find beets so problematic.
Potato salad, Greek salad, pickled beets and shrimp? How many of my favorite things can you stuff in one recipe? The geophagy angle is interesting too. Perhaps that's why beets are so satisfying .