Thursday, March 22, 2007


The farm stand is open! There shall be strawberries for breakfast again! There's no doubt that produce that has just been picked tastes best—even the beets.

I hated beets when I was a kid growing up. We had government hot lunches at school every day, which when I look back on it now were much more healthy than the pizza and tacos that are being served in the school cafeterias today. A frequent Thursday meal included beets—not sweet little baby beets, but the strong-flavored, full-sized, humongous mature beets. They got cold on my plate because I would eat everything else first which made them even less appealing when the nuns would force me to get them down. I swore that when I grew up I would never eat another beet as long as I lived.

When I saw beets on sale at the farm stand a few years ago I had to admit that they did look appealing, large leafy greens with red veins and stems and a burgundy red bulb at the end. To encourage buyers to take the greens as well as the bulb (most people ask them to cut the greens off), the proprietors of the farm stand posted this message on their chalk board, "Beet Greens, Very Tasty, Very Nutritious." I decided to give them a try, and the rest, as they say is history.

The greens look as though they might be tough, but when steamed or stir-fried, they become soft and tender similar to cooked spinach. The red stems are edible, too. You can cut them into inch-long pieces and stir-fry them also with a little onion, then throw the greens on top and cover the pan to steam everything together. When I buy the beets, I cut the bulbs off, leaving about an inch of stem and bag the bulbs and greens separately. The greens should be eaten right away, but the bulbs will last longer like any root vegetable.

I like to cook the bulbs by steaming them. Just wash them well and cut the root end off but leave the stems and steam them whole. Do not peel them. This will minimize the amount of red juice that will bleed out of them. You can do this if you have bought small ones, otherwise, cut them in half for quicker cooking. After they are steamed and tender when pierced with a knife (about 20 minutes for small ones, longer for larger ones), rinse them under cold water while you rub the skin off. It should slip off easily and the beet will stay hot inside. Then slice them and add a little butter and tarragon. Yummy!

This morning's LA Times has a front page article about Wolfgang Puck's plan to join the fight against animal cruelty, specifically farm animals (hooray!). In Puck's words, "Healthier animals taste better." And that is true. Grass-fed beef tastes much better than grain-fed, and organic, free-range chicken comes close to tasting like the chicken I remember from my childhood, although it is not there yet. (I wonder what will happen to the human race when there are no longer any people alive who remember what good food tastes like.)

Last summer I treated my brother and sister-in-law to a meal at Puck's flagship restaurant, Spago in Beverly Hills. On the menu was this "Beet Cake" appetizer. I realized that I have come a long way from that kid who refused to eat her beets when I found myself ordering this tasty treat!

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