Friday, March 21, 2008

Dark Days: Beet Salad with Arugula and Pickled Red Onion

Our recent beet harvest yielded about seven pounds, but since these beets were first planted last August I was anxious to see if they were actually edible.

The beet greens, braised with garlic, shallots and red wine, yielded a delicious lunch earlier in the week. I cooked the beets yesterday in batches in a large pot of water, leaving the root and some of the stem intact.

From the boiling water they went directly into a cold water bath. The skins slipped off easily. I cut the beets into wedges. Now to taste.

The verdict? Not bad. A wee bit chewier than you would normally hope, but sweet and quite edible, especially for beets that had been in the ground for seven months. We are learning lots lately about how things overwinter in our kitchen garden here in the District of Columbia.

We decided these beets would be good candidates for pickling, but I put a few aside for dinner. I made quick pickles of some red onions. (See below). I tossed the beets and pickled onions with overwintered arugula from the garden and some blue goat's milk cheese, then dressed everything with a simple honey-mustard vinaigrette.

Now that spring is here, the arugula is desperate to go to seed. The seed stems seem to rise overnight. But that's fine with us. Along with the peppery leaves, the buds and flowers are great for spicing up a salad.

To pickle a batch of red onions, peel and cut two red onions in half lengthwise, then slice the halves into thin crescents. Put these in a bowl and cover with four cups of boiling water. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes, then drain in a colander.

In the same bowl, mix together a marinade of 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 cup water, two tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns and 1 teaspoon whole cloves. Return the onions to the bowl, mix and let stand for about 4 hours, tossing the onions in the marinade occasionally.

The onions are best chilled before using. Or pack them into 2 pint-sized canning jars with the marinade and store in the refrigerator.

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