A fellow blogger who lives on a small farm talks about one of the admittedly few perils of eating seasonally. According to the good people of Putney Farm, “There is a slight tyranny to the seasons. If you have cherries, you are cooking with cherries, period.” In my case, it’s what comes to me not from my back yard but from the CSA I joined, and the produce that keeps on giving is beets. And I’ve already got my second batch of pickled beets happily being worked through in my fridge, I’ve made pasta with them, we’ve cooked them and put them in enormous, hearty salads.
So what’s a girl to do?
Ummmm…no. Not that kind. Though movie geeks, is the lady in this video wearing the same shoes Fran wears the first time she dances with Scott in Strictly Ballroom?
And I digress.
So yeah, salsa. I haven’t made any in a while which, in retrospect, is shameful of me because at one point in my life I was like the Bubba from Forrest Gump of salsa. You got’cher beet salsa, your tomato salsa, your orange salsa, your cucumber-seaweed salsa… Now, I suppose, that’s how I must behave in reference to the noble beet. I know I’ve talked about beets in the past so I’ll forego the history lesson today, but remember! There may be a pop quiz before class is dismissed. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 lb. beets
- 1 ear corn
- 1 big fat jalapeno, or two smallish ones
- 2 scallions
- garlic to taste (I think I used four cloves, but what? They were small!)
- 1/2 cup cilantro
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar (or other mild vinegar)
- Juice from one lime
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
- salt and pepper to taste
- *possible “if necessary” ingredient which will be revealed later
Beets are misunderstood in American society. People think they’re difficult to prepare but the reality is, they’re not. They just require time. While they’re fantastic roasted, during the summer that’s not an option I would choose impetuously and so we go with the second and only slightly less preferred preparation for beets, which is boiling.
This? Is the most tedious part of massaging your beets into deliciousness. Boil them for about a half an hour, until they’re nice and tender, and then take them off the heat and let them cool. While they’re doing that, you can start prepping your other goodies.
The first thing to do is chop your jalapeno. The heat lives in the seeds and membranes, so if you don’t want your salsa very spicy, de-seed the jalapeno. The easiest way to do this is by taking a teaspoon and running it along the insides of your pepper. It pulls out everything in one smooth movement, and you don’t have to worry about having crazy good knife skills. Once it’s seeded, chop it fairly small and put it in a bowl with the cider vinegar. I’m not sure what it is about cider vinegar, but it seems to love jalapenos and does magical things to their flavor, and it softens them up a little bit so you’re not biting into an aggressive piece of hot pepper. Set that aside.
I was going to have my big griddle out anyway to make quesadillas, so I cooked the corn for about fifteen minutes on a nice, hot griddle. Then set it aside until it’s cool enough to handle. When it is, peel it and slice the kernels off the cob. Put the corn in a large mixing bowl so it is ready for the rest of the salsa.
WARNING! This will smoke like crazy, so if you do this make sure you have ample ventilation. Or, you could put it on your outside grill. Or, you know, steam or boil it if you don’t plan to get grill happy.
For the record, this reversible grill/griddle thing that stretches across two burners of my stove? ~~~Adore~~~
Once you’ve finished with the corn, if you want to wipe down the griddle because there’s husk hair on it that you don’t want on the rest of your food, toss a little oil on the griddle and wipe it down with a paper towel grasped firmly between your tongs. DO NOT TOUCH IT WITH YOUR FINGERS. You will get a burn.
Anyway, back to the goodies. Red onions! I had one huge one that I portioned out (again, partly used for the quesadillas). For the salsa, I cut the onions fairly thick–I wanted them to stay together on the griddle, and thicker slices are easier to manage that way. For those not using a griddle, just put them in a really hot pan.
Are your beets cooked and cooled? If so, they’re ready for the next step. First, peel them, which is super-easy now that they’re boiled. You can peel them with your fingers, but if you don’t want to, slit the skin with a knife and slide a teaspoon in under the skin. It will pull the skin right up, AND (bonus!) it’s less messy, though that’s kind of relative when working with beets.
Here’s where you have to make a decision, because you want to put some kind of char on the beet to create a little bit of contrast in flavor and texture. If you plan to use a griddle or frying pan, then you can dice them right now, toss them on the heat and let them brown for a few minutes. If you want to put the beets on the grill, cut them into rounds to make grilling possible and then dice them afterwards. Again, I had a griddle, so…
So, chop whatever still needs to be chopped–the onions, the scallions, the garlic, the cilantro, beets if you haven’t done so already. Put everything into the big mixing bowl with the corn. Add the jalapenos in vinegar, lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
Caveat: be careful with the salt! Here’s the “if necessary” ingredient: soy sauce. These are all sweet vegetables we’re cooking, and there’s a fairly high acid component in the recipe thanks to the juice and the vinegar. Taste your salsa; if the flavors are too ‘bright” or only seem to have one note, and you don’t want to add more smoky cumin or pepper for fear of overwhelming the balance of the salsa, toss in some soy sauce. I think I used maybe–maybe–eight or ten shakes of reduced-sodium sauce, so it was enough to boost the missing savory umami quality of the salsa without fundamentally altering the flavor profile and morphing it into something else. But as soy sauce is salty, watch how much salt you put in your salsa until you determine if you need soy sauce or not.
And that’s it. Give it a stir, stick it in the fridge while you make the rest of your dinner, and then?
Beet and corn salsa (that’s hearty enough to serve as a side dish), nasturtium quesadillas (blog coming soon) and parsleyed sweet and new potatoes. Seasonal eating can become a little bit of a challenge but with some imagination, it can produce tremendous results.