One of the best things about casting a wide net for recipes is that, bit by bit, I build my knowledge. Take beets: I had always cooked them (wrapping, roasting, cooling and peeling) until one day, years ago, I came across a Moroccan treatment that had me shredding them raw for a salad. Another day, a smart cookbook author taught me to forgo the peeling altogether when I was using the baby variety and to not worry about the relatively thin skin. And yet another, a chef showed me how even a larger beet, when roasted at high heat, doesn’t necessarily need peeling, either — and that it could be presented whole, draped in a mole sauce.
These were all welcome diversions from the same-old roasting, which — let’s face it — is often really more like baking or steaming when those beets are wrapped. Frankly, the technique doesn’t always bring out their best qualities. They seem to take forever to cook through, but leave them in the oven a touch too long, and they can turn soft enough to lose their appeal — although at that point, I usually puree them into a spread or soup.
Another summer, another lesson: This year, I’m grilling beets. I’m scrubbing but not peeling them, and then I’m cutting them into thick slices for a quick trip to the grill, where the kiss of smoke and flame chars and ever-so-slightly tenderizes them, leaving them supremely satisfying to eat. My favorite recipe for this treatment comes from “Summer Food,” a new book by Paul Lowe, Nina Dreyer Hensley and Jim Hensley.
Lowe, the Norwegian-born founder of Sweet Paul magazine, and his photographer partners bring a positively sun-kissed look, feel and — now that I’ve cooked from it — taste to the book. (Flip through it, and you’ll see what I mean; if you can resist planning a cookout, you’re stronger than I am, although perhaps not as much fun.) Lowe & Co. don’t call for leaving the beets unpeeled, but my previous experience told me to try it, and I’m glad I did: The peel picked up even more char than the beets’ interior, and leaving it on gives the dish — beets combined with grilled halloumi cheese and a sharp mustard sauce — a particularly rustic feel.
The authors call for fresh dill sprigs for garnish, but since I was pulling the beets straight from my front-yard garden, I had a better idea: the smallest beet greens I could find. They brought everything together, once again.