Tender (plus beet)

After a bit of a dry spell, we bought ourselves a new cookbook: Tender, by Nigel Slater. Nigel is one of those people that could write a shopping list and I’d buy it. When it’s a discussion of fresh vegetables and home gardening and things to cook in season, there’s definitely no question. I brought it home and immediately read it cover to cover.

The way I envision using this book is the all-too-frequent case where I have a vegetable languishing in the fridge and I can’t think what to do with it. I might not follow one of Nigel’s recipes – much of what he does is very similar to what I do when I’m winging it – but having all the possibilities laid out at once is tremendously helpful, and his tone is deeply encouraging. In this case, I had some beets.


We ate the greens off the beets a couple of weeks ago, and it was about time to use up the roots. Nigel’s recipe for beet tzatziki actually only used one beet, but it reminded me of their existence and I made borsch with the remainder a few days later.

beet tzatziki

Beet tzatziki is pretty darn simple: just yogurt seasoned with garlic, fresh mint, and grated raw beet, in pretty much any proportion. The trick seems to be finding any middle ground between the moment you start stirring it together and the moment (very soon afterwards) when it suddenly looks like thickened Pepto Bismol. Or raspberry ice cream. Something very, very pink. In any case, it tastes good. It makes your dinner plate look kind of awful, though.

beet tzatziki

about to process

The chickpea fritters that Nigel suggests to go with the tzatziki were a lot of fun. I’ve made falafel many times from a mix, and read recipes for making it with soaked, ground chickpeas, but it never really occurred to me that I could just puree cooked chickpeas with herbs and an egg and fry it. It might not be a true falafel but they were extremely good. They’re very soft-textured, though, so I think they’re best eaten with a fork rather than stuffed into a pita, which would just mush them into hummus. Not that that wouldn’t be tasty, too.

falafel ingredients



Chickpea Fritters

adapted from Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater

  • one can chickpeas, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 egg
  • bunch of parsley
  • handful of mint
  • salt and pepper

Roughly chop the parsley and mint leaves and the garlic. Put everything into a food processor and whirl it around until it’s mixed but still just a touch chunky. Let it sit for ten minutes (apparently this is important, although I didn’t notice much difference).

Heat a film of olive oil in a nonstick pan (or two, if you don’t have a pan big enough for all of the fritters at once). Add the chickpea mixture in dollops – it will be very soft. Smooth out the dollops with the back of the spoon, then leave them the heck alone until they begin to brown on the underside. Don’t poke at them, they’ll fall apart! When they seem to be getting a good crust, flip them over quickly with a thin spatula and cook the other side.

Serve with tzatziki (beet or otherwise) and a green salad.

beer borsch


I tend to make pretty chunky borsch – I like the smooth kind served cold with a bit of vinegar stirred in, but I also like a big hearty soup with pieces of beet and potato and beef and plenty of cabbage, and that’s the sort we usually have at home. I usually use beef or lamb broth for the base, if I have any, and dill as the main seasoning. And sour cream on top, of course.


This particular batch had a slightly different flavor than usual, as I braised the beef in beer before assembling the rest of the soup, instead of using broth. A friend brought a growler of excellent locally-brewed stout to our holiday party this weekend, and I wanted to use some of it up. I seared the beef stew meat with onions, added a cup of stout, and let it simmer covered for an hour and a half while I roasted the beets and sliced the cabbage. I topped up the soup pot with a little water and added everything else, then let it cook another half hour or so. It was a really good borsch, and the beer made it less sweet and a bit earthier. A slice of buttered rye bread would have been the only thing to make it better.

horseradish cream


Posting that chicken chiffon pie really took a lot out of me, but I think I’m in recovery. Now we can move on to better, and yummier, things. Like horseradish cream.

I just discovered this easy sauce on Friday – I had gotten a tenderloin out of the freezer for dinner, and was trying to figure out what to cook alongside. I pulled out Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques, which is helpfully arranged both by season and by menu, and found a suggestion of roasted beets with horseradish creme fraiche. We bought some enormous beets recently at the farmer’s market, so that was an easy call, and the sauce sounded fantastic. I walked down to the co-op and picked up a container of creme fraiche. I’ve made this myself in the past, but it takes time to culture so this time I took the easy route. And all I had to do was stir in a heaping spoonful of prepared horseradish and some salt and pepper (Goin adds a few other seasonings, but it didn’t seem necessary). It was SO GOOD with the beets, which we cubed and roasted in olive oil and herbed salt, as well as the steak and the steamed broccolini. And it was good the next morning with latkes, and eaten cold that night stirred into leftover beets. And the tiny bit that’s left is fated to be drizzled over tonight’s beef stew with barley and mushrooms. I’m looking forward to it.

potato-beet gratin

potato beet gratin

So you may recall that last week there was a dish specifically designed to use up beet greens, but the beets themselves never made an appearance. Here they are! I deeply regret not taking a picture of them while they were fresh and intact, because they were beautiful – but you’ll just have to cope with pictures of the finished product, a gratin of beets, potatoes, and cheese. The beets were from Blue Heron Farm, and the potatoes from Frog’s Song Farm. The cheese was from the supermarket (sorry, the local cheesemaker doesn’t do Gruyère-style).

This is based on an actual recipe from one of our old standbys, the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook. It calls for specific quantities and measurements, of course, but I never have the exact amounts of anything so I end up just tossing stuff in however. The key is adding plenty of cheese and cream.

dinner Continue reading

an after-yoga supper


This past month we’ve been trying something new – Bikram yoga. Two or three times a week we voluntarily put ourselves in a very hot room and twist ourselves into postures that leave us unbelievably sore, with a tendency to sleep ten hours a night (not that we generally get to). The drawback (for those of us obsessed with food) is that you can’t come home after nine hours of work and 90 minutes of hot yoga and expect to have time or digestive power for an exciting, complex or heavy dinner. Or alcohol. As a result, we’ve been expanding our repertoire of fried rices and other things that can be processed in the morning, then dumped in a hot wok and promptly inhaled alongside a pot of green tea. A few pounds have been lost, let me tell you. Continue reading

beets & goat cheese

 steak with beet and goat cheese salad

It seems like this has become such a hackneyed combination of late – in the past year it seemed like every restaurant we’ve visited has had a beet/goat cheese salad on their menu. But you know what? That’s because the flavors are PERFECT together.

Oddly enough, though, I don’t think I had ever combined them at home. We eat beets fairly frequently, since I discovered the glory of roasting them in olive oil until they get soft and caramelized, but we usually just eat them straight and blazingly hot, or mix them with other roasted vegetables. I also once made a beet salad from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook where they were marinated in black currant vinegar and mixed gently with walnuts and watercress, but somehow beet salad never made it into the regular home repertoire.


A few days ago, though, I was shopping for something to go with a steak from our freezer, and I noticed bunches of baby beets from one of the local farms. As I was picking out a bunch, I suddenly remembered the half-round of Bucherondin chevre lurking in our fridge – we had eaten some of it along with good bread and the shrimp gratin earlier in the week, but then run out of bread – and it’s much too good of a cheese to allow to spoil. So I picked up a head of redleaf lettuce as well, hauled my goodies up the hill and plopped the beets into a pan of water to simmer. Once they were fork-tender, I ran cold water over them and slipped the skins off, cut up the beets into thick slices and drizzled a little walnut oil over them. The chevre I cut into small chunks, which went into the bowl with the beets. Then I tossed the lettuce with a dressing of olive oil, Dijon mustard and red wine vinegar, and took it all to the table so we could compose our own salads.

It was a thing of beauty alongside the steak, with an Oregon Bordeaux-style wine (Cana’s Feast Bricco Two Rivers – delicious) and a good pan sauce. Why don’t I do this more often?

Salmon with beets & fennel

salmon with roasted beets and fennel

Saturday night’s dinner was pretty exciting (and filling), so I made us a “recovery” dinner for Sunday, just a fillet of wild-caught sockeye salmon, pan-seared in olive oil, and a head of fennel and some beets, cut up and roasted in the oven. It was beautiful, fresh tasting and sweet, and it turns out that salmon and fennel are really good together (note for future experiments).

Of course, we may have undone some of the good of this dinner by also baking up the rest of the gougères and eating them all. Whoops.