Crapaudine Beet


[Crapaudine Beet]

It is a common misconception that the wintertime opposes the hurried cook with a dearth of ready-to-eat vegetables that could be prepped and dressed in under five minutes.

But what of endives and young winter greens, what of radishes and kohlrabi? What of lemon-squeezed mushrooms, what of thinly sliced fennel and cabbage, what of carrots and celeriac, which do require peeling and grating, yes, but perhaps you have a basic food processor gathering dust somewhere and it is time to take it and its assorted grating-slicing attachments out of retirement?

To my arsenal of winter crudités I have a few years ago added the beetroot. While you can simply peel and grate young beets for a raw, crunchy salad — do wear gloves and an apron if you’re heading out to a job interview afterwards and don’t want to appear as if you’ve just slayed someone — I prefer to take an even more leisurely path.

I buy my beets pre-roasted from the market or the produce shop, and all I need to do is peel — the skin strips off like those cool exfoliating masks –, slice — the butter-soft flesh offers a sigh and no resistance –, and eat.

The beets I find at the organic farmers’ market are roasted over a woodfire, which accents their earthy flavor, and you can make that point with even more clarity by adding a pinch of smoked salt or smoked paprika. On my last market run I enquired about the kind of beet they used, and was told with a straight face that it was a variety called “red ass.” I smiled privately, enjoying the cheeky name, until I looked it up and realized that it was merely “red ace” with a French accent.

But the variety I like the most is one called betterave crapaudine — literally, lady-toad beet — in reference to its rough, wrinkled, pockmarked skin. Not very sensitive to the beet’s feelings, perhaps, but the only other comparisons I could think of were to the nose of a really evil witch, or the gnarled finger of a tree that came to life in an illustrated book and scared me to tears when I was little. Crapaudine is not bad after all.

The crapaudine is an heirloom variety that is said to date back by several centuries; its root is long and conical where most are ball-shaped, and its elegantly sweet flesh remains firm when cooked.

Because so much of my cooking is color-coded, I offset the dark crimson of crapaudines with bright green or orange touches (mâche, chervil, pistachios; raw-peeled orange segments, strips of raw or smoked salmon, brittle shavings of extra-old mimolette), or count on their powers of persuasion to impart a rosy complexion to any white companion I wish to pair them with (feta, shallots, a light cream dressing).

My most recent and most smiting discovery in the beet-seasoning arena is how well they take to a sprinkle of Goumanyat‘s mélange rose aphrodite, a mix of rose petals, saffron threads, and ginger, ground to a cotton-candy pink powder of a scent so heady I like to rub a pinch behind my ears.

In all cases the sweet chatter of beets needs to be interrupted by a curt remark — sour, acidulated, salty — so they’ll shut up before they get cloying; vinegar and lemon juice are good at that.

  • Ce légume est très bon, je le connais bien il s’accomode dans plein de recettes!
    Maud ;-)

  • PS

    I adore beets, and yes, their sweetness is best tamed with a little tartness. They are delightful with real Indian yoghurt, if you can find it. This is a very sharp and thick yoghurt — lumpy rather than smooth — but if it’s not available, Greek yoghurt is a fair substitute. Then you can add whatever other accents you like — toasted cumin seeds, toasted mustard seeds, shallots, spring onions, fresh coriander leaves — I’ll leave the finishing touches to your ample gourmet imagination!

  • I adore beets, but my husband won’t eat them. I’ve tried everything — the most perfect beets at the end of the summer, roasted, peeled, served with a perfect vinaigrette, goat cheese, some lamb’s lettuce. Nothing, nada, he wouldn’t even touch them. It might be tempting to respond, oh lucky you, you get to eat them all, but honestly, I’d love to able to make more beet things; I love them on Greek salad, in borscht, or just with a little lemon vinaigrette and chives. Sigh…

  • What an informative entry. Here in Canada I have never came across pre-roasted beets in any market. But that makes things easy for sure. Mélange rose aphrodite sounds amazing, I wonder if I can find it here… Can you buy that on-line?

    All the best,
    Monika Korngut

  • Beets are my favorite, too bad I do not eat them as often as i would like .

  • My husband does most of the cooking in our house, though I do the shopping. He’s always looking for colors to mix and match on the plates. I forget about beets, though we both love them; the third (and youngest) member of our family has an aversion to most vegetables. I’m happy to see beets get the recognition they so rightly deserve! Go red!

    And I see carrot salad quite often here in France…don’t remember it as much in the USA. I’ll have to give that a try again too. Thanks for the memory jog.

    Meilleurs voeux!!

  • Donna

    I love warm beets with goat cheese and walnuts. Our farmer’s market has the typical round beets in red and orange – and doesn’t that look pretty on a plate? I haven’t seen any of the toad shaped variety. =)

  • I like to roast them in a foil pouch in the oven, as I have yet to see a pre-roasted beet on the Left Coast. My father ADORES pickled beets, so we ate them a lot growing up.

  • christine (myplateoryours)

    Roasted beets are wonderful — wish I could buy them ready roasted but fortunately they aren’t all that hard to do at home. Just looks like you’ve murdered someone when you go to peel them. I like them cold, diced, and dressed with pistachio oil and sherry vinegar, and tossed with some chopped fresh roasted pistachio nuts. Great combination, and so beautiful!

  • April N

    Yum beets! For those of you with a Trader Joe’s nearby, there are pre-roasted beets available in the cold case with the fresh vegetables.

  • Thanks April! I’ll go check it out!

  • Tea

    I hated beets as a child but had a conversion last year. I like them roasted, peeled, and served with a dollop of yogurt and some flaky salt. They are so good, I can’t believe I used to say they tasted like dirt.

  • Beets are a wonderful ingredient and as a chef, yes they do taste of dirt, or earthy as we foodies say. However that flavour does lend itself wonderfully to mascarpone, pine nuts and balsamic! I think food is going back to it’s roots(sic) and beetroots are at the head of it

  • melissa

    I converted almost everyone I knew to beets one year by making a warm roasted beet salad with arugula, walnuts, golden and red roasted beets, and feta cubes. Sprightly vinaigrette. Yum.

  • Here is a simple winter salad with beets that I make: grate young beets and carrots, add a lot of chopped parsley, season with lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Tasteful, with beautiful colours and very healthy!
    If you like leeks you can add chopped leeks, too, and then colours get even more beautiful and the salsad more healthy.

  • I used to think I didn’t like beets until I was given a plain beet salad served with a little cheese last year and now I love them but I only ever see the round variety here.

  • The sprinkling of the melange rose aphrodite elevates beetroot to elegant.

  • ann

    after borscht and Polish beet salads, my favorite application is in a pasta. You puree roasted beets with a little cream, butter, wine and lemon then toss some frilly, flowery pasta in it, finally, grate some cheese over, and this is vital… garnish with mint cut in a chiffonade.

    Beets & Mint are best friends forever. Since finding this recipe I have used the pairing to wow everyone I’ve ever met, and yes, they’ve all been wowed ;-)
    Thanks for your recipe Clotilde!

  • Interesting! I haven’t had beets since I was a child. I may have to rediscover them.

  • rob

    I love cooking root vegetables in the winter. There’s something about a bowl of caramelized root vegetables and a roast chicken or a braise that’s ideal this time of year. I’m jealous of the availability of fire roasted beets. That is something I’d love to try.

  • nabila

    Je découvre ce légume, que je vais essayer! Thanks

  • occasional reader

    I love roasted beets… They are the staple of Russian cuisine. Shredded, with a touch of garlic, a dash of cut-up prunes and chopped walnuts, they make a simple yet delicious and healthy (switch mayo to oil-vinaigrette dressing) salad.

    My favorite is a layered salad (onions/”cubed” deboned herring/boiled potatoes/beets/mayo/eggs, rep twice), which proved to be quite a hit at the very traditional American Christmas dinner, despite a fair amount of jokes, raised eyebrows, and skepticism I had to endure during its preparation.

  • Here in Australia beetroot is served pickled and silky sweet on burgers all the time and I’ve never liked it. Roast and fresh beetroot on the otherhand has turned me around.

    I really enjoyed seeing how everyone here uses theirs. My favourite way is roasted and quartered in a warm salad with grilled haloumi cheese and a dressing combining tahini and lemon juice with some good olive oil. It brings out the earthiness and you’re right it works beautifully with sour.

    I wish we could get them pre-roasted here!

  • I love beets, especially pickled as they do them in the South of the States, with vinegar, onions, etc. I have the same problem pitting cherries as far as staining properties and learned to wear an apron and gloves and put everything in the sink as I did the job. Messy job but worth the results-beets or cherries.

  • Bruce F

    The classic Russian dish Pkhali is a great way to serve beets.

    After roasting the beets, dice them and set aside.

    The following dressing is enough for about 3 lb. of beets.

    Toast 1 cup of walnuts. Put the walnuts in a food processor with an medium onion, 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar, and 1 Tbsp. ground coriander. Puree. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss with the beets, and let them sit for an hour or so to absorb/soften the flavors.

    Serve warm or room temp.

    I found this in Bittman’s Best Recipes in the World. I’ve made it so many times that I’m comfortable passing on the proportions off the top of my head, but you might want to check out the cookbook just to be sure.

  • Bruce F

    My memory is not so good.

    You only need 1/2 tsp coriander. Also add 2 cloves of garlic into the food processor.

  • I love roasted beets. I will definitely try some of these new spice mixtures. I have a decent experiment running with roasted beets, the best result yet is “Red, Gold, and Orange Festive Salad,” made to brighten up my winter table.

    Too long to post here, but you can find the recipe on my site.

  • Beetroots are really great as described. But for those going back to there roots, uncooked beets are excellent! Peel, rinse and slice very tiny juliennes with a mandolin, or a grater. Nice on there own as a colourful side dish with a simple mustard vinaigrette, and/or combine with oranges, pine nuts, parsley. Great as a montage with tartare of salmon as featured here.

  • I make a quick beet salad with cubed beets and about a half cup each of Japanese rice wine vinegar and elderflower syrup. It’s quite tasty with a nice balance of zingy acid and flowery sweetness.

  • Lisa

    As you may have deduced from some of the other comments, pre-cooked beets, so ubiquitous in France, are almost impossible to find in the U.S. On the other hand, if you want an uncooked beet in Paris, that’s not so easy to find!

  • Donna Smith-Harrison

    Your comment about wearing gloves and an apron around beets made me laugh. Years ago I was making beet juice with a juicer I had purchased at a yard sale. The sellers neglected to mention that the juicer was not so stable and had a tendency to “walk” across the counter. And so it did when I put the beets in and turned away for a second. After the crash, I turned around to see beet juice EVERYWHERE in my all white kitchen – and the juicer sashaying acroos the floor! I started screaming and my roommate ran in. She took one look at me and assumed I had cut myself to pieces, or murdered someone! I managed to stop her – just barely – from calling 911. It looked like a terrible disaster had occurred – and it took awhile to find ALL of the beet juice that had flown around the kitchen! Months later we would finds drops in odd and unexpected places!

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