I must admit, I have a limited repertoire with beets. I’m comfortable roasting, boiling and pickling them, but for this project of posting about the vegetables offered each week in Isabelle farm’s CSA, I wanted to try something new. Pica’s, my favorite neighborhood Mexican place (inspired menu, great Marg’s, children-friendly) is owned and operated by my former culinary student (yay, Trent!). And although most of the menu features meat or seafood items, there’s a beet (not beef) taco plate (vegans, request “no cheese, please”), and this was the inspiration for my “grilled beet tacos with pickled red onions & beet green salsa verde”.
To prepare beets for any type of cooking, you’ll want to thoroughly scrub and remove most of the skinny root and tops. Actually for best storage, you’ve already cut beet greens from beets and kept both parts in plastic bags; that way beet greens stay crisp and roots don’t go limp. Beets from the farm’s first picking are small to medium in size, sweet with tender skins that don’t need peeling. While the grill preheats, cut them to a uniform size for quicker even cooking (smalls into quarters, mediums in half and each half then quartered). For flavor, add a thinly sliced onion, salt and freshly ground pepper, a splash of vinegar and olive oil and then toss until evenly mixed. Place in an even layer in heavy aluminum foil (or doubled regular) and crimp the foil closed on top and sides.
Place the foil packet fold side up on the grill and reduce the heat to medium low (you want to cook fairly gently or you’ll have blackened beets, says I from experience). After 15 minutes, rotate the packet 180º for more even cooking since grills usually have hot spots and adjust the heat down if you smell any burning. Check in another 15 minutes by pressing a few beets through the foil to see if they’ve softened. Continue to cook until beets yield to finger pressing and feel tender. Mine took 40 minutes total. Alternatively you can roast the beets in the oven with more predictable results, but I wanted to keep the heat outside, not in my kitchen, for what could be an hour of cooking.
You can prepare the rest of your taco fillings while the beets cook. For the pickled onions, bring a kettle of water to a boil while you halve a red onion lengthwise, and slice thinly crosswise. Place into a heatproof bowl and then pour enough hot water to cover the onion slices; place a small plate on top to weigh down and let sit for several minutes. This softens and slightly cooks the onion, removing its bite and allows it to better absorb flavors. Remove the plate, drain the onions and place back into the bowl. Season generously with salt, a sprinkle of sugar or spoonful of honey, and a good dose of apple cider vinegar. Toss and let sit and cool until you’re ready to eat.
For the beet green salsa verde, rinse and spin dry enough beet leaves to give you about a cup, roughly chopped. Place those into a small food processor, along with a half cup of roughly chopped cilantro, chopped scallion, a clove of garlic (fresh green garlic if you have it), salt, juice of half a lime and a generous splash of olive oil. Process until the leaves are finely chopped and you have a loose sauce. You may need to add a little more oil to get a salsa-like consistency; adjust the salt and acidity with more lime juice to taste.
I happened to have leftover pinto beans and rice, and corn tortillas from the farm store in the freezer. Let diners assemble their own tacos, offering sour cream/Greek yogurt, cilantro sprigs, grated cheese (I had feta) along with the pickled red onions and beet green salsa.
Have fun with beets this week, along with more of the early summer harvest to come!