The Red in our Winter Garden

This time of the year our vegetable garden displays various shades of green and only the glorious dark red beets, once unearthed, break this winter monotony. We are very fond of our beet salad in Greece, and try to have a year-round supply, planting seeds twice a year.

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In the summer, beets can be overshadowed by the tomatoes, but many people here cannot imagine fried or grilled fish without a side dish of sweet beets. Their taste, we think, complements beautifully the saltiness of seafood, so beet salad is always served at Greek fish taverns. Unlike northern Europeans, though, we don’t use beets in soups, or cook them together with other vegetables, grains or pasta. We just boil them in plenty of water, and when they become tender we slip off their skins, chop them and dress them in vinegar and fruity olive oil with chopped garlic, or better accompany them with a creamy skordalia, the ubiquitous garlic sauce, in one of its countless Mediterranean variations.

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Roman aphrodisiac

I read that “…the beet has a long history of cultivation stretching back to the second millennium BC. The plant was probably domesticated somewhere along the Mediterranean, whence it was later spread to Babylonia by the 8th century BC and as far east as China by 850 AD. Available evidence, such as that provided by Aristotle and Theophrastus, suggests the leafy varieties of the beet were grown primarily for most of its history, though these lost some of their popularity much later following the introduction of spinach.

The ancient Romans considered beets an important health food and an aphrodisiac.”

I wonder if the raw-food advocates, who usually include beets in their vegetable juices, still count on the root’s aphrodisiac properties.

beets_red_yellow

In Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa beets are used as coloring for the white winter pickles. One or two chopped beets impart an attractive pink color to the pickled cauliflower florets and the crunchy Moroccan sliced radish pickles. On the other hand chefs in France and other parts of the western world try to avoid staining the vegetables, beans and other ingredients they serve with red beets, adding them to the plate carefully at the very last minute.

See the Recipe: Beets and Greens with Skordalia (garlic sauce)

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