I’m back in the kitchen after a week of lounging, going out on the town and taking care of a million errands that I otherwise can never seem to find time for (eye exams, cleaning out the broom closet, buying new shoes, etc.) It occurred to me that while I call this blog “The Sweet Beet,” there has never actually been a beet recipe posted. I’m thinking of changing the name sometime soon, but before I do, here’s another ode to the beautiful beetroot.
Pickled beets are one of my favorite snacks. The brilliant vermillion color of the beets, dressed in a tangy brine brighten up salads, rice dishes or meat entrees. Try beet relish on your next hotdog or hamburger, or if you’re veggie, on a nice broiled portobello cap.
Sweet Beet Relish
1-2 pounds of beets, boiled, peeled and diced. I think pre-cooked beets work just fine. Avoid canned beets.
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 large red onion, finely diced
1-2 tbsp pickling spices (or a mixture of mustard seed, juniper berries, clove, thyme and bay.
2 tbsps brown sugar
1 tbsp salt (pickling salt or sea salt is fine)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Cracked pepper to taste
Put all ingredients into a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 20-35 mins until liquid had evaporated. Taste. You can make the relish sweeter or saltier if you like.
The end result is a tangy, delicate condiment. I love the soft texture of the beets and their earthy flavor. They go well with a creamy goat cheese, or brie. I like to enjoy this relish on toast with tea, but straight out of the bowl is good too.
I might not look it, but I consider myself an outsider. I am largely uninterested in the hip, the fashionable, the trendy. I really do not care to have the latest techno gadget, the newest luxury designer fashion item, or the most expensive pair of shoes. I still don’t understand Twitter. In general, I try not to let the consensus of the masses persuade me from eating and enjoying unpopular foodstuffs. I am not really into the current bacon trend or the cakepop phenomenon. Bacon is delicious because it is essentially salted, smoked fat and there’s a part of me that thinks it is cheating to pour salted fat into and onto everything and call oneself a gastronomical genius. Cakepops are frosted donut holes that have been skewered on lollipop sticks for absolutely no good reason.
No, my tastes are for the more misunderstood of ingredients.
While the majority of Americans shudder at the very idea of a mysterious, viscous, slimy extract slicked all over their crackers, I heartily lick my lips in evil glee. I may not be the type of person to take part in trending, but I hope, in some small way, to start the trend of Marmite consumption in the U.S.
Marmite is yeast extract. A byproduct of beer brewing that has been literally scraped from the bottom of barrels, and mixed with a secret combination of spices. The thick, black syrup has an intensely salty, somewhat beef-like taste. The Brits have been combining Marmite with butter and spreading it on toast since 1902. During WWII, Marmite was extolled for its vitamins and minerals, particularly B vitamins such as B12 and folic acid. For vegetarians who miss the umami of meats, Marmite adds a deep, savory flavor to soups, gravies and sauces.
It ain’t pretty, but it has charm.
In the UK, Marmite is much adored and much loathed, but in the US it’s mostly unheard of. I encountered Marmite through my love of BBC television shows and British literature. It was by lucky chance that I found a tiny, rounded jar at a local health food store. From my first tentative taste, I have been a big, big Marmite fan. I’m not really sure why it never caught on in the States. Marmite seems to have all the things going for it that Americans love: it’s salty, it’s highly concentrated and, despite being 100% vegetarian, it tastes like it might have come from an animal.
I have seen Youtube videos with puzzled Americans eating heaping tablespoons of Marmite and grimacing in disgust. They give entirely the wrong impression. The trick to enjoying Marmite is to pay attention to serving size. At 1/4 tsp a serving, it’s easy to get carried away and regret the salt overload. Americans don’t seem to realize that Marmite is a concentrate. You can’t just spread a glob on a piece of bread and munch away. A dab will do ya. You can mix Marmite with cream cheese, peanut butter, butter or mayonnaise. It makes for an excellent sandwich spread. Marmite and cheddar sandwiches are a beloved combination.
I like it the traditional British way, just a smidge on the end of a knife mixed with a dab of butter and thinly spread on wheat toast, served with a nice cup of tea.
I challenge anyone to pick up a bottle and behold the majesty, because Marmite is a flavor explosion waiting to happen. It is definitely not for the timid, but I predict, with a little prodding, America can learn to love Marmite.