On Beets

Scrub a beet.

The deep vermilion will color the white bristles of your vegetable brush. Scrub off the thin layer of earth, only later to find that its soil has penetrated the deepest parts of the flesh. Place the beet in a small pot of salted water to boil. The water will bubble and the beet will slowly bleed into the pot until it becomes like a single beating heart, thrusting against the rising currents.
The beet is the most human of vegetables.

A metaphor.
As it softens, it releases the lifeblood. Pierce it with a fork and watch the juice bleed like a wounded soldier, or a knifed assassin, a melodramatic scorned lover of Shakespearian proportion. The dramatic effect diminishes when baked or sauteed.
A freshly boiled beet, drained of its crimson liquid and placed steaming on a wooden cutting board is a thing of beauty.
Step away from it for a moment. Watch the steam rise and think of your own beating organ. Think of the shape, the heat of your own machinery. Palm the newly heated beet and feel the heaviness, swollen with hot water and now fleshy. Marvel over the sudden metamorphosis from hard knotted fist, to soft, delicate, meat.

The knife will cut through with very little resistance. Split at the center, the beet astounds with its presentation of the color red. Only blood has this depth in its hue, this power, this overwhelming sensuality. The center of the beet pulses red, a velvet crimson. If you touch your finger to the hot middle, it will come away with a drip of dark pink. The beet is never a solid color, it gradiates from almost black to a white-pink, like a dappled rose. The center of the beet swirls around, a picture of chaos, mismatched on the inside.

The steam arising from the root smells of that same earth rinsed off before cooking. Like something from deep inside the ground. And the beet is a root, the lifeblood of the plant. It holds the nutrients for the plant’s continued survival. An unlikely piece of artwork.  The plant itself, floppy leaves, an unassuming green color, muted red veins and stems, not much different from a lettuce. Only through digging under the layers of soot, can we recover the beet from its cloistered hermitage.

For the longest time, I despised beets. My mother slopped them on the plate, dumped out from a can and heated in a bowl in the microwave, with a bit of melted butter. She thought they were healthy.  I thought they tasted like dirt, feet, mildew. It was only after years of refining my palate to enjoy earthy flavors like quinoa, brown rice, and greens that I could appreciate the succulence of the beet. I learned that with a bit of balsamic vinegar, a pinch of sea salt, a sprinkling of dill, a beet on its own becomes a thing of wonder.

A boiled beet, sliced and presented on a bed of dark greens, paper thin slices of red onion and almonds, can outdo any filet mignon. The texture is beyond delicate.  A boiled beet, dressed in fresh basil and olive oil can stand alone as a meal. I have had them baked with garlic and topped with broccoli sprouts, pickled and served with potatoes, eaten alone fresh from the pot in all their earthy glory.
The beet is a miracle of a vegetable, lowly yet satisfying and so very poetic.


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