Ode to the Beet

My apologies for not writing in so long! Stay tuned for a “Mother/Daughter Mustard” installment soon…

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.

The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze the blood out of a turnip

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.

The beet was Rasputin’s favorite vegetable. You could see it in his eyes.

In Europe there is grown widely a large beet they call the mangel-wurzel. Perhaps it is a mangel-wurzel that we see in Rasputin. Certainly there is mangel-wurzel in the music of Wagner, although it is another composer whose name begins, B-e-e-t–.

Of course, there are white beets, beets that ooze sugar water instead of blood, but it is the red beet with which we are concerned; the variety that blushes and swells like a hemorrhoid, a hemorrhoid for which there is no cure. (Actually, there is one remedy: commission a potter to make you a ceramic asshole–and when you aren’t sitting on it, you can use it as a bowl for borscht.)

An old Ukrainian proverb warns, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.”

This is a risk we have to take.”

– Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

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Squash Flower and Swiss Chard Frittata

shadowed squash blossoms

 (Flickr Photo taken by NatalieHG)

 

I bought tons of colorful vegetables from the farmer’s market yesterday, and I wanted to make an easy meal that would combine lots of summer flavors in one compact recipe. As a vegetarian, I’m always thinking about protein, and eggs (though I don’t eat them everyday) definitely provide the energy to weather long summer days. Combined with parmesan cheese, a rainbow assortment of vegetables, basil, and the unique addition of flor de calabasas, this sumer frittata wins marks for both flavor and efficiency.

 

 

You will need:

An oven-proof saucepan

6 eggs

one cup of milk or soy milk

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (plus more to sprinkle on top)

one red onion

about 8 brown mushrooms

a bunch of swiss chard

squash blossoms (about 7), stems cut off

one tomato, diced

fresh basil leaves

thyme, rosemary, black pepper, and sea salt

To prepare:

Preheat your oven to 475 degrees. Beat eggs along with milk or soy milk and add grated cheese, salt, and pepper. Set aside. In an oven-proof saucepan, sautee onions in a bit of live oil until clear and then add mushrooms. When the mushrooms are tender, add the chopped swiss chard, basil, and squash blossoms. Cook for only about two minutes, till everything has just wilted, and then poor in egg mixture. Add the tomatoes on top. Do not stir; instead, leave for about seven minutes and then stick the whole pan into the oven with more parmesan on top for about fifteen minutes or until all the egg is firm. Serve with toast or salad (and any more spice, such as hot sauce, if desired).

The Marriage of Mushrooms and Scallions

As a vegetarian, mushrooms have become one of the staples of my diet. They are plump and meaty when sauteed, deliciously flavorful when grilled, soft and silky in soups. Mushrooms transform omelettes into feasts, and veggie sandwiches into more than satisfying fare. Toss a medley of wild mushrooms onto a flatbread with fresh rosemary, caramelized onions, and fontina cheese and impress any gourmand.

I chanced upon the Ferry Building Fungus festival back in November, and was offered a variety of shortbreads and candies made with mushrooms that exude the buttery sweet smell of caramel. Mushrooms are diverse; at the same Ferry Building farmer’s market there’s one stand called Far West Funghi with mushrooms of all different shapes and sizes, most resembling either forms of underwater flora or the tentacles of alien creatures. I wouldn’t call mushrooms beautiful, but they are most certainly mysterious. For anyone who can’t leave meat behind, I dare you to try eating mushrooms instead of meat for a week and see if you aren’t satiated. 

Robert Hass, my current favorite poet out of Northern California, meditates on the wildlife and horticulture of the region, often mingling his personal experiences with the landscape he reflects. This poem digs into both the mood of the foggy autumn day and the shadowy, musty body of the mushroom

Fall

Amateurs, we gathered mushrooms

near shaggy eucalyptus groves

which smelled of camphor and the fog-soaked earth.

Chanterelles, puffballs, chicken-of-the-woods,

we cooked in wine or butter,

beaten eggs or sour cream,

half expecting to be

killed by a mistake. “Intense perspiration,”

you said late at night,

quoting the terrifying field guide

while we lay tangled in our sheets and heavy limbs,

“is the first symptom of attack.”

 

Friends called our aromatic fungi

“liebestoads” and only ate the ones

that we most certainly survived.

Death shook us more than once

those days and floating back

it felt like life. Earth-wet, slithery,

we drifted toward the names of things.

Spore prints littered our table

like nervous stars. Rotting caps

gave off the musky smell of loam.

-Robert Hass, Field Guide

The pairing of mushrooms and scallions is a veritable marriage; the spice and delicacy of the onion combines perfectly with the depth of the mushroom. In particular, I find that portobellos and brown crimini mushrooms pair sumptuously with scallions. Here are two recipes that use both, one with a classic Japanese flair and one with a Mexican tilt.

Mushroom Udon Noodle Soup

I’ve had a horrible head cold and this, besides oatmeal and apple sauce, is literally the only thing I’ve eaten for five days straight. Adjust the amount of pepper flakes and ginger according to your liking, and even drop an egg in if you want a little extra protein.

  • 1/6 a package of uncooked Udon
  • 1/2 cube vegetable bullion
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • 1 T ginger, roughly chopped
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 5 baby bella mushrooms
  • a handful of baby spinach
  • 2 tsp aleppo pepper flakes
  • black pepper

Cook udon in a pot of boiling water for 6 minutes, then drain and run under cold water and set aside. In a pot, boil two cups water. When boiling, add the veggie bullion and soy sauce along with the ginger, garlic, pepper flakes and mushrooms. When mushrooms are soft, add the spinach, scallions and noodles, stirring until spinach is soft (about 1 minute). serves 1-2

Portobello Mushroom Tacos

  • One portobello mushroom cap, thickly sliced
  • fresh thyme
  • shredded white cheddar cheese
  • Two white corn tortillas
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • hot sauce
  • sliced avocado
  • fresh spinach
  • 1 lime

Sauté garlic in a bit of olive oil. Add the mushroom and thyme and cover; let steam for seven to ten minutes, or until mushroom is juicy and tender. On a separate skillet, melt cheese and scallions on the tortillas (better if you don’t use butter or oil but instead just put tortilla directly on skillet and cheese will melt). Prepare spinach and avocado, and assemble everything into the two tortillas when cheese has melted. Top with hot sauce or salsa of your choice and fresh lime juice. Serve with strawberry mint margaritas (see below).

Weekly Farmer’s Market Pick

Spring carrots. Eating one today was like waking up after a deep slumber: biting in and noting the sweetness, the natural crunch and an earthy finish. Knowing that you’ve been betrayed by hundreds of super market carrots for your whole life, save the few you’ve had from people’s gardens, and realizing that “carrot” is in fact a whole new species when it receives the care of a small-scale gardener. It is smaller. It ends in a delicate and graceful wisp. And it lasts on the tongue like a dream does in the morning, fading slowly and hinting at what’s growing under the surface.