David Tanis’ Beets

January 25th, 2010  |  Published in All, Beets, Veritable Vegetables, Weeknight Recipes  |  13 Comments

David Tanis’ Beets

For a blog named after beets, it’s been far too long since I featured a recipe based on my favorite root vegetable.

The occasion for these beets was a vegetarian dinner we hosted last weekend.  Oddly, I find it easier to plan and prepare a menu with constraints such as no meat or no dairy than one in which the whole food palette is available.  Perhaps it’s the same reason I love CSAs… when dealing with a limited set of ingredients, I tend to be more creative and adventurous with the foods I prepare.  There is a similar practice for musicians.  Musicians will deliberately put themselves in situations where making music is really the only thing to do, with few distractions and where supreme boredom is a looming possibility, i.e. move to a mountain cabin for 3-4 months.  The only thing to do is to make music.  Period.  Some of the best music in history is a result of people enforcing constraints on themselves.

Anyhow, when I made these beets last weekend they were but one component of three in a salad from David Tanis’ book A Platter of Figs.  I first saw the cookbook back in 2008 when I went to Chez Panisse for the first time (Thank You Alisha!).  The cookbook had just been released, and Tanis, a chef for half of the year at Chez Panisse, was preparing menus in the vein of his new book.  The meal was simply amazing, and is something I will remember for many, many years to come.  I had been meaning to pick up the cookbook ever since, but this Christmas I received it as a very thoughtful gift, and since then have read it cover to cover.  It is simply lovely.  It is menu based, and embodies so many wonderful ideas about entertaining.  Each menu is a collection of 3-7 recipes (or non-recipes, depending on who you ask… is a platter of figs a recipe?).  Each is designed to be served at a dinner among friends, 8-10 people or so.  Tanis presents a few simple but compelling ideas related to entertaining:

  • – A gathering flows similarly to how a menu flows — plan it thoughtfully
  • – When serving food, serve it on family style platters rather than individually plating everything.  It makes the experience more intimate.
  • – When hosting a dinner party, the focus is people and friendship.  Food may compliment this, but it shouldn’t be the absolute focus.  With this in mind, favor simplicity, seasonality, and quality ingredients to make simple, delicious food

When the party was over and I was cleaning up, I separated the prepared salad into its’ components — beets, eggs, and watercress — since I figured they would keep better separately than in one big massive container.  Then next morning I tasted the beets on their own and thought to myself, these are so delicious!  Slightly pickled, sweet, earthy, and just a hint of mustard… since then I have been eating them on their own and loving it… on top of ricotta spread over rye, mixed with chopped egg as a pink take on egg salad, and plain spoonfuls straight out of the refrigerator whenever I feel the urge.

Whether on their own or atop a watercress salad as David Tanis originally envisioned it, these beets are superbly delicious and quite simple to prepare.  A beet lover will fall more deeply in love, and the beet averse will perhaps give the underrated vegetable a second thought.  Enjoy them thoroughly, and keep in mind David Tanis’ idea that entertaining is a joy to be shared and celebrated.


David Tanis’ Beets
Adapted from A Platter of Figs

6 medium beets, greens removed, scrubbed clean
2 large shallots, finely diced
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
1 T. dijon mustard
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 t. grated orange zest
a squeeze of orange juice (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350.  Place the beets in a roasting pan with about an inch of water.  Bake, covered, for an hour, or until the beets are easily pierced with a fork.  Slip off the skins while the beets are still warm.  Roasted beets will keep for 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator.To make the vinaigrette, macerate the diced shallots in a bowl with the vinegars and a good pinch of salt for 10 minutes.  Stir in the mustard until dissolved.  Whisk in the olive oil, add the orange zest, and grind in some pepper.  Squeeze in some orange juice if desired.  Taste and adjust for acid and salt.  The dressing should be somewhat tart so add more red wine vinegar if necessary.

Dice the beets into roughly 1/2 inch cubes.  Place the beets in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Whisk the vinaigrette and pour it over the beets.  Toss the beets in the dressing.  Enjoy!

Note:  David Tanis’ original recipe is Watercress, Beet, and Egg Salad.  To make this, simply spread about three bunches of cleaned, trimmed watercress over a platter.  Scatter the beets over the watercress, then garnish the salad with 6 hard-boiled eggs that have been cut into quarters.  This is also supremely delicious!

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