As you likely noticed, spring is taking its sweet time arriving this year. Personally, I will never complain about a couple rogue snow days creeping into March, because there are few things I love more than an excuse to spend a day trapped on my couch when the weather is wily.
Another benefit to prolonged winter here in the northeast is a lingering of our cold season produce on menus and on our minds. I don’t care what anyone says, there is a lot to love about New England in winter. Especially the beets.
On looks alone, beets could be considered heartthrobs. But it’s not only what is on the outside that counts you guys. On the inside these sweet, tender gems are every bit as wonderful as their appearance makes them seem. Like candy of the earth. If vegetables had a yearbook, beets would win a superlative. Not sure which one, but they would win one.
So for all our collective whining that spring has yet to grace us with its presence, while we anxiously await its warmer temperatures and abundant allergies, I think we are missing out on the chance to tuck into the hearty bits of winter that are lingering about. So treat yourself to some earth candy while you wait for the green hues of spring to arrive.
Ultimate Beet Salad
6 medium sized, varied varietal beets (I used classic, golden, and chioggia)
½ cup roasted & salted pistachio meats
1 8oz log of chevre goat cheese
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
2 teaspoons of fresh lemon zest
Juice of half a lemon
2 cups of arugula
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil & balsamic vinegar (for serving)
- Roast the beets. Scrub them to ensure they are free of dirt, then individually wrap each beet in tin foil with a little olive oil. Set individually wrapped beets on a baking sheet, and roast at 375° for 45 minutes to an hour. When a sharp knife can easily slip into the center of each beet, you’ll know they are done. Let cool and then slice into quarter inch thick rounds. (Best to do this bit in gloves, and also make sure to cut the lighter colored varieties first so they don’t bleed together).
- In a large mixing bowl, combine goat cheese, poppy seeds, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper (I used a hand mixer to get it nice and fluffy, but you could just mix with a wooden spoon). Let chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.
- On a large platter, lay out the arugula as a base. Arrange the room temperature beet slices atop the greens, then dollop the goat cheese mixture around the top. Sprinkle the pistachios over the stop. Finish with a sprinkle of salt, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar just before serving.
Finding creative ways to incorporate vegetables into your diet can be tricky, particularly during the colder months when we crave hibernation food. This is answer. It’s warm. It’s got grains that can trick your mind into thinking you’re having pasta. It has cheese.
Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely love vegetables. It’s just that sometimes the small child inside that fought so hard against the tyranny of peas before cookies and greens before mac and cheese makes me think I don’t want to eat them. So I am often in search of ways to want to eat my vegetables; for preparations that make me excited about them. This is one of those, I promise.
The prep is a bit intensive if you don’t have a food processor. Hand shredding, chopping, and dicing can give you a touch of the carpal tunnel. Take breaks! Drink some wine while you practice those knife skills (or while you watch your food processor whir). But I did and survived, and lived to tell the tale. Luckily this keeps really well, it is definitely a dish that can be made on a Sunday and eaten throughout the week.
So whether you love eating vegetables or have to force them upon yourself, this will stick to your ribs the way a good winter meal should.
Winter grain bowl
2 links chicken sausage, cooked (optional)
1 cup quinoa
1/2 cup farro
2 shallots, diced
1 large sweet potato, shredded
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 ½ cups shredded brussel sprouts
1 ½ cups cooked, chopped spinach
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp sage
salt and pepper to taste
- Cook quinoa and farro together in a pot, and set aside to cool. Remove casings from chicken sausage (if using), cook and set aside.
- Sautee shallots, sweet potato, carrots, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts over medium heat. Once all the vegetables have softened, add spinach, garlic, sage, and thyme; and salt and pepper to taste. Cook together for 5-7 more minutes.
- Turn heat to low, and add back in sausage, feta, and cooked quinoa and faro; mix everything together. Taste to see if you want more salt and pepper. Dole out in bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil. (Also highly recommended: top with sliced or mashed avocado).
Like most kids, I was not always a huge fan of eating my vegetables. I have vivid memories of crying shriveled peas that had to be consumed before I was allowed my dino-shaped chicken nuggets, and of stealthily hiding florets of browning boiled broccoli in my hands and then sneaking them into the trash can to gain access to the evenings offering of macaroni and cheese. To my parents’ credit they did try to encourage healthy habits (a success for the most part; as adults my sisters and I are all still of the mind there must be a vegetable somewhere on the dinner table), but clearly I was a bit of a vegetable evasion MacGyver back then.
But those days are behind me. I have evolved. I love vegetables now, particularly in the months of the year when I can get them fresh from farmers’ markets. That has been the true difference. That, and knowing that most vegetables can be utterly transformed into the part of the meal I am most eager to eat with the help of a little love and seasoning. The shriveled, overcooked, and unseasoned veggies-0f-yore are long gone. And good riddance.
This succotash is an ode to what a vegetable dish can and should be. Simple, but tasty. Quick, but memorable. In June corn is sweet and super affordable, and is as delicious raw as it is thrown on a grill. Shelling peas would be a treat but frozen are just as effective. And the zucchini are just starting to appear. All sautéed together quickly in a hot pan of slightly browned butter et voilà, all former fears of vegetables are eradicated. Alongside a little bit of lemon-drenched shrimp and you have a full meal. Just add white wine.
succotash & shrimps
2 medium zucchini, diced
2 ears of corn, kernels removed from the cob
1/3 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup shelled peas
4 tablespoons butter
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
salt, pepper, and lemon to taste
- Dice the red onion and zucchini into bite size bits to match the corn kernels and the peas. Over medium heat, melt the butter in a sauté pan until it just begins to brown (it will have a nutty smell and appear golden). Immediately add the zucchini and onion and cook for 5 minutes or until they soften and begin to brown. Add in the corn and peas and cook until just warm, about two minutes. Season with salt and pepper then remove from heat and set aside.
- Pat shrimp dry (this will help them brown), and salt and pepper to taste on both sides. Cook over medium-high heat with a bit of olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until they are just pink. Turn heat to low and squeeze fresh lemon juice over the shrimp (the heat from the pan my cause some splatter). Stir to coat all the shrimp and pick up the tasty brown bits at the bottom of your pan. (If you’ve got a grill, cooking your shrimp on it instead of on the stove would be a wonderful deviation).
- Place shrimp on top of succotash and give an additional hit of lemon, salt and pepper if necessary. If you have fresh herbs, say basil or chives, they would be a great way to add from brightness sprinkled over the dish. Serve immediately.