Ah, beets. Unfortunately many people have a fairly strong hatred for this vegetable (my mother, for one), most likely due to the very common canned variety known mainly for its lack of flavor, texture, and fun. Or perhaps people are turned off by the root vegetable's scientific classification: "Beta Vulgaris." Whatever the case may be, it is my opinion that beets have gotten the short end of the stick over the years, and it's about time we re-evaluate this "nutritional powerhouse." Beets are not only gorgeous (they come in a wide range of jewel tones), but they are excellent sources of antioxidants, potassium, and folic acid.
I've been on a beet kick over the past month or so, after quite randomly selecting a recipe from Vegan With A Vengeance that called for the vegetable. To my delight, I found beets to be not only flavorful, but easy to work with (contrary to popular belief). Sure, they turn your hands purple, but that's the fun part! It's like finger painting all over again. And it washes off with soap and water, you for all you worry-warts.
So, when Sierra graciously provided this month's edition of Martha Stewart Living as a pastime for work, I was thrilled to find an entire article on beets! It's like the stars were aligned for me. You can check out the online version of the article here. Included in this article were a handful of yummy-looking recipes to try with beets, and though none were vegan, I decided I had to give it a go. With a few tweaks, the recipe for beets and skordalia was easily vegan-ized.
A note on skordalia: yes, this is an unusual word you've probably never heard. I hadn't come across it before, either, but Wikipedia quickly cleared things up for me. Skordalia is a thick puree that is found in Greek cuisine, usually made from potatoes, garlic, and vinegar. It's a tangy and tart, and is most notably served with beets. Also, I was excited to read that on the Ionian Islands, they make it with lemon instead of vinegar. I think we all know that'll be happening soon.
Anyway, here's your traditional skordalia with beets and tempeh. Hope you enjoy!
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
1/2 cup oil (Martha called for Safflower, which I didn't have, so I went with a combo of olive and vegetable)
1/4 cup white wine
4-6 (1 pound) mixed beets, scrubbed well and trimmed
2 cups baby lettuce (I used Mache, I highly recommend)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 8-ounce package of tempeh, cut into thin triangles
1/4 olive oil
1/2 red wine
1/4 red wine vinegar
1 tsp oregano
2 cloves crushed garlic
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Like Martha did, I'm going to write out the instructions for this recipe in three sections. Read the full instruction set first so you can decide how you'd like to go about tackling all three. None is particularly more difficult than the other, but timing-wise they don't always add up. I did yoga in between boiling sessions- just ask Jenn, it was a hilarious sight.
Bring potatoes and garlic to a boil in a medium pot of salted water. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Do some yoga while you wait. Drain them in a colander, and let 'em cool.
While they're cooling, peel and smash the garlic cloves. Place potatoes, garlic, and vinegar in a food processor and pulse until well blended. Add the oil in a steady stream, then white wine. Continue pulsing until the mixture is smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and season with salt. Cover it all up, and refrigerate until you're ready to use.
Bring beets to a boil in a pot of salted water. Reduce heat, and simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. Go do some more yoga. After a while, check out the color of the water. This isn't part of the recipe, it's just awesome how purple it gets! Drain the beets in a colander and let cool. When they're of a touchable temperature, it's time to peel. If you've never worked with beets in this manner, the easiest way to get the peel off is to just apply pressure with your fingers and rub. If your beets have been cooking long enough, the peel will easily remove itself from the inside of the beet. Your hands will get purple, but it's a quick and easy way to peel them. Plus, the purple washes off, so you don't have to look like the one-eyed, one-horned, giant-purple-people-eater at work the next day. Moving on.
Cut the beets into one- to two-inch long pieces. If you've got mini beets, you can do quarters. I could only find the normal sized ones, so I cut them as if I was slicing an orange. Either is fine. Next, heat the olive oil in large saute pan over medium heat. Add your garlic and beets, and cook until the garlic has turned golden brown, about three to five minutes. Finally, add the mache lettuce in handfuls and cook until slightly wilted. Season with salt and pepper, and you're ready to go!
In a medium saucepan, bring several cups of salted water to a boil. Drop in the tempeh triangles and allow them to simmer for five minutes. Sounds strange, yes, but boiling allows the tempeh to absorb marinade more easily. While the triangles are boiling, assemble the marinade in a shallow pan or casserole dish by whisking together the olive oil, red wine, vinegar, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper. When the tempeh is ready, evacuate it from the water with tongs, and place it immediately in the marinade. Allow it to rest in the marinade for at least 30 minutes, or up to several hours.
To cook the tempeh, I used a grill pan on high heat. Be sure to prep the pan with some oil (I used organic high-heat canola oil spray) so it doesn't stick. Once you've placed the triangles on the hot pan, don't move the tempeh for several minutes, about five (this depends on how thin or thick your slices are). When the triangles are ready to be flipped, they will release easily from the pan and have lovely grill marks on them. Repeat for the second side, e voila!
Spread the cooled skordalia into a little puddle on the plate. Arrange the tempeh in a pleasing pattern on top, and spoon the beets on the plate to the side. Garnish with dill and coarsely chopped parsley.
This dish held several unusual and unexpected flavors, but in the end melded together quite harmoniously. For next time, I plan on trying the skordalia Ionian Islands style- made with lemon, rather than vinegar.
Special thanks for Chris for allowing me to cook so experimentally, and for so expertly gaffing these photos.