Tiny Beets: First CSA meal of the season.

Yesterday, I got my first ever CSA box. I decided to join a CSA last fall, when I was both frustrated with my shade-filled garden and impressed with Highcross Farm produce at the farmer's market. I did follow through on filling some raised beds in the middle of my sunny backyard, and have tomatoes, eggplants, peas, lots of peppers and assorted herbs finally doing very well so far thanks to unobstructed views of the sun and all of the rain we have been getting lately. I know I've mentioned before that when I first moved to the city, I used to feel strange getting my summer produce from strangers at markets. Growing up, we always had a huge garden, and it was something I never realized was so precious until moving away from home. I've always had some sort of little garden going, but not really a big enough one to eat a whole season through.

I think I'm really going to enjoy my CSA. I know I was already impressed with what arrived in my small box yesterday: pac choi, green lettuce, chives and oregano, 4 stalks of rhubarb, and a bunch of tiny beets along with another basil and tomato plant for the back yard.

It is early in the season, so when I say "tiny beets" I mean really tiny. There were three little beets in the above bundle, weighing in at just over 2 ounces without their tops. I decided that 2 oz. of beets plus their greens would be a good amount for my lunch, so I decided to veganize a recipe I saw on innBrooklyn: Beet Chops.

I kind of thought I would save the recipe for my Vegan Monday post, but I just can't since it was so tasty. I used a slightly higher proportion of russet potato to beet, and altered Indira's cooking methods just a little, but the effect was truly great. And lest you think I'd toss the gorgeous beet greens, I sauteed them quickly in olive oil to make a bed for the chops.

The result is a pretty, pink dish, glamorous enough for a dinner party, and elegant enough to make me feel special for cooking it just for myself. I recently read Judith Jones' book The Pleasures of Cooking for One. I have to say, it is probably one of the best reads I've had in a long while. There are many reasons one can be driven to cook for the self, some are sad and lonely reasons, and some are fueled by experimentation and curiosity. Weather I am sad or lonely, curious, or am the only beet lover in my household, I certainly love to cook and don't need much prodding to make a mess of my kitchen for no other reason than to just please myself. It is only an added joy to be able to sit at the table and think to myself, "This is REALLY good".

The original recipe calls for equal parts beet and potato, but I had very tiny beets, so I upped the russet ratio. Indria also dredges the chop in egg to help the bread crumbs to stick, but since I was making a vegan version, I omitted this and just lightly pressed the bread crumbs into the sides. I make my own bread crumbs from my leftover bread, so I know that they are vegan. You could experiment with panko crumbs, or even corn flakes, and discover a tasty variation.

Beet Chops (adapted from Indria on innBrooklyn)

Serves one, but proportional enough to easily accommodate more servings.
  • 2 oz. beets, boiled and mashed
  • 5 oz. russet potato, boiled and mashed
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/8 t. turmeric
  • 1/8 t. garam masala
  • 1/8 t. chili powder
  • 1/4 t. cumin powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • bread crumbs for dredging
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • beet greens from the beets, coarsely chopped
  • olive oil
Boil the beets and potatoes separately since they cook at different rates. (Reserve some of the cooking liquid just in case.) I mashed them together in the same bowl. Meanwhile, saute onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Then add spices, salt and pepper, reduce heat, and stir until onions are soft, another 3-5 minutes.

Add onions to mashed potato/beet mixture and stir together well, adding a bit of reserved liquid if the mixture is too dry. Form the mixture into 6 "chops", I made mine rectangles. The mixture is soft, like a fragile play dough, so work carefully.

Press the chops into the bread crumbs gently, so that all sides and ends are evenly coated. Heat some vegetable oil, about 2 tablespoons, in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. When oil is hot, carefully add chops, and cook about 1 minute per side until all 4 sides are lightly browned and crusted. (I actually used my hands to add them to the pan and flip them, since they are pretty delicate, just be careful of the heat.) When the last side is done, turn off the heat and saute the beet greens.

Heat a little olive oil over medium heat, until hot but not smoking, and add beet greens. Toss with a bit of salt and pepper and saute until cooked to your liking, about 2 minutes for me. Serve the beet chops on top of the beet greens.

Homemade bread crumbs: I seasoned these with salt, pepper and a bit of onion and garlic granules - but I usually leave them plain.

I had tasted the beet/potato mixture prior to pan frying, and knew that I loved the flavor, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how delicious the hot beet chops were. I really love Indian spices, and it really works with beets - I don't know if I'd ever had anything similar before! They almost melted under the weight of the fork, and were amazingly "beety" for only having a mere 2 ounces of beets. They were also a cheerful color:

The best surprise of all, is that while I chose the 3 chops that were most "photogenic" to plate up first, it was the 3 that got slightly charred that tasted the best. It was accidental to be sure, since I have an electric stove, and the "Genuine CalRod" coils always tilt my pans slightly to one side no matter my rigging it seems. I guess, if I had a deeper coating of oil, all my chops would have been rendered more blackened and crispy. However you choose to alter the recipe, I'm sure you will enjoy your result...

...provided you love beets, of course. If you do, and find yourself in the position of cooking for only yourself, whatever the circumstance rejoice in the fact that there is no right or wrong, there is no one you need to impress, there is just the simple joy of standing over your stove and tinkering with a dish that will no doubt bring you the greatest reward.