A few weekends ago, I dashed into the Foodland for a few necessities, but I stopped in my tracks as soon as I set foot in the produce department. Twenty pounds of beets for $1.99 — what a deal! But maybe not so much of a deal, considering I cook for just two, plus a finicky toddler who, despite beets being her favourite colour, outright refuses to eat them.
Beets, aside from that fabulous purple colour, provide fibre and are an excellent source of folic acid, which is essential for brain maintenance and cell production. Beets are also a good source of manganese, which is an all-around good mineral to have in your body, enhancing everything from memory to bone structure. But the best reason to eat beets is that they taste good; roasted beets, paired with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and feta cheese are simply spectacular… especially when compared to the masochism of pickled beets, or those gooey, bland, Harvard-style beets.
But back to my big bag of raw beets. I had a purpose in mind when I lugged that hulking bag to the checkout. Making Borscht has crossed my mind, and I’m sure I’ll roast a few to pair with roast beef at some point.
But at least 15 pounds worth of these beets will go through a new juicer that we recently acquired by cashing in some credit card points. Juicing is a pretty trendy thing right now; devotees claim it’ll change your life by boosting your immunity and helping you lose weight, while deterrents say you’re missing out on valuable fibre and drinking more calories than you should. As ever, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Andrew and I don’t expect the juicer to be a revelation but rather a nutritional helping hand. We already eat a fair amount of vegetables and fruit and fibre — except when we’re busy and within a block’s walk of three pizza joints. Our current blend consists of some of those beets, plus carrots, an apple and an orange, and a handful of parsley (breath-freshening and full of antioxidants). This results in a multi-vitamin mix that’s not too sugar- and calorie-laden. Going full-tilt veggie with the juicer, while healthier, is not for beginners… or for people with taste buds, for that matter.
When we think to, we add a chunk of fresh ginger root to the mix. Ginger has long been used to soothe upset stomachs, but it also contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. We add it to the juicer for the tangy kick it brings to the resulting beverage. Ginger is a double-faced flavour: When fresh, it adds an unusual heat to Asian-influenced dishes, but when dried, it is a cornerstone of many sweet baked goods. The dried stuff is easy enough to store, but how not to waste one of those gnarled roots? Simply wrap it tightly in plastic and freeze it; it keeps forever. When you need some, just saw a piece off and drop it into warm water to thaw.
It didn’t seem right to include a recipe with last week’s column, so you’re getting two this week, one for each star ingredient. The beets’ distinctive colour makes this dip an unusually festive addition to a holiday party spread, while ginger — especially gingerbread — has long been associated with Christmas.
Bright Red Beet Hummus
1 pound roasted beets, quartered
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tbsp. tahini (sesame paste)
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides. Taste throughout and adjust as you see fit. Serve with veggies, pita chips or on bread.
Triple Ginger Cookies
(From House & Home, Nov. 2013)
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. ground pepper
½ tsp. salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger
1 large egg, at room temperature
¼ cup fancy grade molasses
1/3 cup finely diced crystallized ginger
Coarse turbinado sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, sift flour and baking soda. Stir in spices and salt.
With electric mixer, beat butter, brown sugar and fresh ginger until smooth. Reduce speed to low. Add egg, then molasses. Add dry ingredients until combined.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Form balls of 2 tablespoons of dough, then roll in crystallized ginger, then turbinado sugar. Place 3 inches apart on trays. Flatten with a glass to form 2-inch discs. Bake until lightly browned, 12-14 minutes. Makes 30 cookies.