Billy Joel and Beets

I went out to dinner with my mom the other night and a Billy Joel song came on.

"I can't stand Billy Joel," she said, "but I love this song."

I don't care who you are. I don't care how much you think you hate Billy Joel, when "Leave a Tender Moment Alone" comes on, suddenly, it's the one exception to the rule.

Alongside, "Good night Saigon," of course.

And also, "Ballad of Billy the Kid."

And maybe "She's Got a Way About Her."

You see where I'm going with this. I don't care how much you think you hate Billy Joel. I don't care how much you want to hate Billy Joel. He has good songs.

Just as with Billy Joel, so many people I meet think they hate beets. Only once have I met someone, a friend in college, who told me she hated beets and I finally had to relent and believe her. (I said she probably never had fresh beets or roasted beets, and she said, "Jill! I grew up on a farm in upstate New York! I know what the very best beets taste like, and I don't like them." Touche.)

I don't understand how some people don't like roasted beets. I love pickled beets, too, straight from the jar or the can. Raw beets grated or sliced thin like carpaccio, soaked in vinegar or just sprinkled with salt and pepper -- I adore them.

If you are unsure whether you like beets, here are two salad recipes that, to my taste, brings out the very best in them. Roasted beets or pickled work great. (See below for a quick method on how to roast them.)
Southwest Beet Salad
Salad greens (I recommend spring mix or red leaf lettuce)
Orange segments
Roasted beets
Red onion, diced
Tomatoes, diced
Lime juice and zest of one lime
Red wine vinegar (a few splashes)
Jalapeño or chilies (optional), finely chopped

Combine the red onion, tomatoes, lime juice and zest, red vinegar and chilies or jalapeño and let marinate at least a half hour. This is essentially a pico de gallo. You could also add a handful of white corn, thawed from frozen or from the can if fresh is not available.

Assemble the salad in layers however you like. For a pretty presentation, reserve the orange slices and beets for the top layer, nestled on the pico de gallo. Sprinkle with cilantro. Squeeze additional lime juice or orange juice on top.

Salad with Beets, Fruit, and Nuts

Salad greens (I recommend spring mix or micro greens, Boston lettuce, or baby spinach)
Roasted beets, sliced or quartered
Cambozola or other soft or blue cheese (gorgonzola; brie if you like mild cheese)
Candied walnuts (or almonds)
Sliced pears or apples

Plate the greens. Top with fruit slices. Gently lay the beets on top without streaking red and purple all over the fruit. Sprinkle with cheese and nuts. Serve with balsamic vinegar or balsamic vinaigrette.

How to Roast Beets
Take a few beets, the size of your fist or smaller, clean them, wrap them well in foil, and place them in an oven at 375-400 F. Leave them for an hour or more. (I recommend baking something else while doing this to make use of the oven being on.)

Remove the beets and let them cool enough that you can handle them. Remove the foil, trim the top of the beet off (about 1/4 inch) and carefully remove the skins. They should slip off with a minimal amount of prying. You may want to wear kitchen gloves while handling the beets.

Slice the beets into 1/2 inch thick rounds and, while they're still warm, pour a teaspoon or two of very good quality extra virgin olive oil on them. Set aside.