Cold-Proof Your Salad
WITH all due respect to tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and all the other vegetables we’ve enjoyed for the last few months, the champions of the moment are beets, turnips and radishes. For gardeners and farmers in all but the coldest climates, they’re still going strong, which means that for careful shoppers, the highest-quality stuff is still easy to find.
But, aah, you say, the same is true of our semi-hardy greens, like kale, collards and chard. And certainly that’s true. But if you have turnips and radishes, you almost don’t need kale and collards (they’re all in the same family). And if you have beets, you almost don’t need chard (beets are chard are grown primarily for their roots; chard is beets grown for its greens).
Incredibly — though not surprisingly, since there are no surprises here — the beets, turnips and radishes give you greens to use in salads or for cooking, as well as roots you can eat raw or cooked. (There are other vegetables, notably kohlrabi, that meet this description too, but only gardeners are going to find them with their greens.)
It is probably this very utility, as well as their ability to withstand cold (radishes are the first roots you can plant and enjoy in the spring, and turnips are among the latest you can harvest) that has caused these vegetables to be underrated. They’ve been fed to cattle and pigs as much as to humans, and they’re often despised, or at least decried, as poor people’s food.
Right: because until the last century, almost all poor people farmed or gardened, and poor people had to live through the winter on these and other long-keeping foods. Few of us can imagine living through the winter on a diet consisting exclusively of root vegetables.
Fortunately, few people reading these words need to do more than imagine such a circumstance, but we can celebrate the utility of these vegetables for at least the next few weeks, and without much effort.
This last weekend, I baked (maybe I “broasted,” whatever) beets in their jackets, which I then slipped off; I don’t know of a better method. I included these in two salads, seared them as an accompaniment to fish and added them at the last minute to a braise of turnips and radishes. (The recipe can be used for pretty much any root vegetable.) I made a raw beet salad. I boiled mixed greens, chopped and sautéed them with oil and garlic, and served them for lunch with good bread. I tucked those same greens under roasted chicken at night. There were raw radishes every night, and one night some paper-thin slices of raw turnips as well; I made a salad of the radish and turnip greens. Nor are we done: there will be turnip purée shortly.
Even though beets and turnips keep nearly forever (radishes for a while, but less so), to be at their most enjoyable, these things should really be quite fresh. (I remember when vacuum-packed cooked beets showed up at Fairway, and how exciting that was until I ate them and realized they were effectively canned beets in a different guise.) This is especially true, of course, if you’re going to eat the greens. Assuming that you can find them that way, however, you’re in business.