Some of the very best ideas for preparing fruits and vegetables come from talking to the folks behind the food: the farmers themselves. And why not? These people know their produce better than anyone and are likely up to their ears in whatever they’re growing. Leave it up to the green thumbs to figure out the best way to cook it.
Today’s recipe, for example, was inspired by a jar of beet “hummus” procured last August from a small farmer (he wasn’t small, but his farm was) at the Half Moon Bay Farmer’s Market. It made a dynamite little canapé for a summer barbecue when spread on chilled cucumber slices then topped with a dot of fresh goat cheese. Light and flavorful, the hummus was an across-the-board hit with grown ups as well as kids (who seemed a little dazzled by its vibrant color).
I’d forgotten about the beet hummus until a few weeks ago when I was asked to bring an appetizer for a potluck party. I decided to try my hand at mimicking what I’d bought from the farmer. This recipe, a combination of cooked beets, roasted almonds, a hint of garlic, and plenty of lemon juice, is a pretty close, and very tasty approximation. Plus, it’s light enough so that it won’t spoil pre-dinner appetites. The colorful mixture can also double as a savory dip along with whole grain pita chips or as a spread for sandwiches.
You begin by scrubbing and then boiling the beets in plenty of water until very tender. Once cooked and cool enough to handle, you can easily slip off the outside skins with your fingers. Watch as your fingers go pink under the touch of a beet with its bright, antioxidant-rich juices; be careful not to stain your clothing.
If you want a short cut, the pre-cooked beets sold in vacuum sealed pouches in the produce section of some markets, including Trader Joe’s, aren’t a bad way to go. The size of the beets in those packages vary, so do your best to figure out the equivalent to three large beets.
The recipe uses only the colorful root of the vegetable, but don’t toss out those beet greens. Wash thoroughly, chop roughly (stems and all), run them through a salad spinner, and keep in a sealed bag in the fridge. You’ll have healthy greens at the ready to add to soups, pastas, sautés, stews, and even juices and smoothies, over the next couple of days. They are nourishing too and would be a shame to discard.
BEAUTIFUL BEET HUMMUS
• 3 large red beets
• 2 to 3 tablespoons beet cooking water
• 1/2 cup roasted almonds
• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• 1 small clove garlic, peeled
• Salt to taste
For serving: chilled English cucumber and fresh goat cheese (chevre)
Trim off the beet greens and save for another use. Scrub the beets well and put into a medium pot covered by a couple of inches with water. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Drop the heat a touch until the beets cook at a medium boil until tender enough that you can easily slide a paring knife into the center. You don’t want any “crunch” to your beets. The time will vary depending on how big the beets are and how rapid the boil. Use a slotted spoon to remove the beets from the cooking water (don’t toss the water, you will need it).
When the beets are cool enough to touch, use your hands to slip the skins off of them, discard. Be cautious here, since beet juice stains.
Cut the beets into quarters and put into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add 1 tablespoon of the beet cooking water, the almonds, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Turn on the processor and let it run until the beets turn into a fine puree. If it seems too thick, add another tablespoon or 2 of beet cooking water and puree again. Taste it and add more salt if needed.
To serve for an appetizer, spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons of Beet Hummus onto a slice of chilled, unpeeled, English cucumber. Top with a dot of fresh goat cheese.
Makes about 2 cups.