The Washington Post

Beets: The love that leaves its mark

Whole Roasted Beets With Mole Sauce. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)
Food and Dining Editor

I adore you. I respect you. I treat you with tender loving care, and this is how you repay me? Honestly, red beets, how could you?

I’ll admit it: I’m still trying to figure you out, and maybe I’ve made mistakes along the way. I’m not perfect. Perhaps what I consider TLC is in fact a little rough. Perhaps you don’t appreciate being scrubbed raw, then wrapped and baked until a skewer pierces your heart. Perhaps what recipe writers refer to as “without resistance” is anything but, and you’ve actually been resisting all along.

Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Washington Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Food section's Weeknight Vegetarian column. View Archive

Anyway, you can’t blame me. It’s just that I’ve always thought you could handle all this. Being the object of my affection isn’t always a picnic, it’s true, but some of you strike me as particularly thick-skinned. Let’s be honest: I find you gorgeous, but not everybody does. You’ve suffered more than your share of insults and abuse, and this is obviously not your first trip to the roasting pan. Besides, I don’t mean to be too controlling or anything, but the fact is, from time to time you need to be put in your place. (Doesn’t everybody?) Frankly, that’s when you really shine.

Think about it this way: Where would you be without me? Just hiding, buried up to your stem in some backyard garden somewhere? Awaiting what — the squirrels? You know you wouldn’t be happy with that. You need me. I complete you.

And every time we meet, it’s the same story. You test my patience for a while, but sooner or later you yield (don’t have much of a choice, do you?) and allow your earthy sweetness, even some tenderness, to come through. That’s when I show you how much I care. I shower you with expensive nut oil from France and vinegar from Spain, feta from Bulgaria and yogurt from Greece. I nestle you on a bed of puff pastry, simmer you into a soup, layer you with goat cheese and caramelized onions in a sandwich, and lay you onto a plate next to some of your favorite companions: leeks, walnuts, oranges. Every now and then, when I feel like taking extra time, I’ll even drape your shoulders in a warm, thick coat of mole sauce.

(Joe Yonan/The Washington Post)

If I’m being truly considerate, I’ll even reunite you with your greens. (I’m trying to get better about that, because I get the feeling that the separation is part of what obviously upsets you. But there’s no getting around the fact that the two of you simply can’t stay together for the cooking. You’re different beasts.)

No matter how much I prepare, things with you eventually get ugly: Even as you yield, you can’t help but remind me just how much you’ve endured. I remove the skewer, and you bleed. I rub off your outer skin, and you bleed. I slice into you, and, well, you know exactly what you do. You stain my fingers, my cutting board, my roasting pan. I try to catch your drops of scarlet where I can — I use paper towels, foil, a plastic board, running water or a combination thereof. Somehow, you find a way to leave your mark. When I’m a little more hands-off, leaving you unwrapped and your skin intact, it might be little more than a drop, but other times the stain is the size of a hipster’s tattoo. I scrub, scrub, scrub, and there you are.

I know that’s how you want this to go, and I suppose it’s the price I pay, but sometimes I get a little tired of it, and this starts to feel tortured, in an I-wish-I-knew-how-to-quit-you kind of way. That’s when I dabble with one of your cousins, the golden one or that striped number. They’re so much less complicated. So much nicer. They’re so sunny in comparison that sometimes you all barely seem related.

Oh, who am I kidding? I don’t want sunny. I want dark. It’s you I can’t stop thinking about. And it’s you who won’t let me.

More from Food:

Butter: My first love

Tom Sietsema’s valentines to people and places he loves



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