FOR THE LOVE OF PRODUCE: grilled beets with asparagus salad.
The last of the spring asparagus, the largest wintered-over beets: I just had to grab my final taste before they disappeared at my Canterbury Farmers Market. As part of my self-imposed summer challenge* of preparing fruits and vegetables in a way I have never done before, I came up with this recipe. Grilled beets—sugars caramelized, smoky, meaty,, and enough as a main dish—mixed with barely blanched asparagus rounds that pop sweetly like a preview of summer’s first peas. Something new, something yum.
- Scrub 2 large beets clean with a plastic scrubber or sponge then peel them. Using a sharp knife, cut them into 3/8″ rounds.
- Just for fun, cut a few flower shapes out of the slices using a fine paring knife. Save the scrapes to add to a smoothie or juice.
- In a small dish mix 2 T. balsamic vinegar with 2 T. olive oil.
- Using a pastry or grill brush coat the beets on one side. Place the coated side down on a pre-heated grill pan or outside grill. Cook on low heat very slowly.
- When they are slightly tender when poked with a knife, coat the back side with oil/vinegar and flip them to continue cooking until they are tender. NOTE: as the sugars in the balsamic and beets caramelize, they will begin to smoke. This adds an unexpected flavor to the beets making a new way to taste them!
- Wash a handful of asparagus. Bend asparagus stocks near the bottom white part and where they naturally break; it separates the tough end from the tender stock. Slice the tender stalks into 3/8″ rounds reserving the tips for decoration.
- Bring a small/medium saucepan full of water to boil. To it, add the asparagus rounds and tips. Cook 1 minute, then drain and immediately put in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain.
- To make the salad, arrange beet rounds, pile up with asparagus and decorate with “flowers.”
- Dress with dab of mayonnaise mixed with a bit of balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste.
*I LOVE produce. And it always amazes me how little people eat of it. But given the tasteless, cardboard varieties many of us grew up with—and is still in the stores—it’s no wonder. Sawing a slice of tomato only to have it stiffly lay on the plate looking back at you with its dead-pink, odorless flesh is unappealing, only worsened by the tree-branch chew of it. Who wants to fill 2/3 of your plate with that?
I have been inspired to create new ways to eat fruits and vegetables all summer long when their favor is at its peak. And because combining with additional flavors enhances the taste even more than its singular ingredients, recipes often help with produce that is less that perfect, a reality we are faced with most of the year here in New England.
It tastes better fresh. It tastes better local. But if you have to buy in the supermarkets, recipes help.