They grew in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Elizabethans enjoyed them in tarts and stews. Thomas Jefferson planted them at Monticello. I’m talking about beets, those curious little root vegetables that tend to spark a passionate response from people. We either love them or loathe them. Among the anti-beet folks are President Obama and his wife Michelle, who asked that they not be planted in the White House’s organic vegetable garden. Many complain that beets have an “earthy” taste, which isn’t far off the mark. Beets contain a substance called geosmin, which is responsible for that fresh soil scent in your garden following a spring rain. Humans are quite sensitive to geosmin, even in very low doses, which explains why our beet response ranges from one extreme to the other. Some people adore the sweet and earthy flavor of beets, while others can’t stand the thought of them.
I, for one, am a big fan of beets, especially when they’re roasted and paired with creamy, tangy toppings like feta or goat cheese. Not only are beets colorful and full of flavor, they are rich in antioxidants, folic acid, potassium, and fiber. They also contain unique antioxidants called betalains, which are currently being studied as a potential weapon in the fight against cancer. Betalains give beets their red hue. The rosy betalain-rich juice of red beets was used as a cheek and lip stain by women during the 19th century, a practice that inspired the old adage “red as a beet.”
Beets have long been considered an aphrodisiac in many cultures. Ancient Romans believed that beets and their juice promoted amorous feelings. Frescoes of beets decorate the walls of the Lupanare brothel in Pompeii. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, ate beets to enhance her appeal. This quaint folklore actually has a basis in reality. Beets are a natural source of tryptophan and betaine, both substances that promote a feeling of well-being. They also contain high amounts of boron, a trace mineral which increases the level of sex hormones in the human body.
With amour on many minds this month, treat your beloved to this tempting appetizer- Roasted Beets with Tahini Sauce. The combination of sweet, earthy beets and creamy sesame tahini dressing is an unexpected yet perfect pairing. To learn how to roast, peel and prepare your beets, click here.
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Roasted Beets with Tahini and Pine Nuts
- 6 medium to large beets, any color, roasted
- Nonstick cooking oil spray
- 1 cup tahini sesame seed paste (made from light colored seeds), room temperature
- 3/4 cup lukewarm water, or more for consistency
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (or more to taste)
- 1/2 tsp salt (heaping)
- 3 cups spring greens, baby kale or baby spinach
- 6 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted in a skillet
- To learn how to roast, peel and prepare your beets, click here. Roasting takes 1-2 hours depending on the size of your beets. Before preparing the salad they should be peeled and allowed to return to room temperature (this step can be done 1-2 days ahead).
- To make the tahini dressing, combine tahini paste, lukewarm water, lemon juice and heaping 1/2 tsp salt together in a food processor or blender till sauce is creamy and ivory-colored. A food processor is the easiest way to make this sauce; scrape the sides of the processor periodically during processing. If using a blender, you may need to use a long-handled spoon to break up the thick part of the sauce once every 30 seconds; this will keep it from clogging your blender blades. After a few minutes of blending, sauce will turn into a rich, smooth paste. Slowly add more water, continuing to blend until it reaches the consistency of a thick salad dressing. Taste often during the blending process; add more lemon juice or salt, if desired. With this recipe you will end up with some extra tahini sauce; keep it in a sealed Tupperware container for up to a week. It goes great on salads or as a sauce to fish or chicken. You can also make this sauce 1-2 days ahead. It may thicken in the refrigerator, but can easily be brought back to the proper texture by stirring in a little warm water.
To Assemble Salads:
- Mound ½ cup of greens onto each salad plate. Slice one roasted beet per plate and lay it on top of the greens. Sprinkle the beets lightly with salt. Pour 1-2 tbsp tahini sauce over the top of each sliced beet, then sprinkle each beet with 1 tbsp toasted pine nuts (if you have a nut allergy, feel free to omit the pine nuts). Serve immediately.