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Beets (beta vulgaris) are a member of the order of flowering plants called Caryophyllales, which also includes bougainvillea, cacti, amaranth, carnations, spinach, and venus fly traps. Modern beets are derived from wild sea beets that originated around the coasts of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. By the 3rd century AD, the Romans had begun using the beetroot as food rather than just medicine. They are considered the first to have cultivated the plant for the root rather than just the leaves.
Red beets get their color from a pigment called "betalain." Betalain is also responsible for the red color of bougainvillea and amaranth. Since the 16th century, beet juice has been used as a natural red dye. It was even used as a hair dye. The lovely color can be annoying when it becomes the thing that's stained your hands or clothing, but it can be incredibly fetching in a wide variety of dishes, including baked goods.
This month, I'm sharing two of my favorite beet recipes. The first is an incredible side dish that's simply amazing when served with a beef or lamb roast. The second is a chocolate bundt cake that's got beet puree in it. The puree gives it a rich color and keeps it incredibly moist. You'll love the result.
4 beets, trimmed, leaving 1 inch of stems attached
1/4 cup minced shallot
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Wrap each beet individually in aluminum foil, and place it onto a baking sheet.
Bake the beets in a preheated oven until easily pierced with a fork, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Once they are done, remove them from the oven, and allow them to cool until you can handle them. Peel the beets, and cut them into 1/4 inch slices.
While the beets are roasting, whisk together the shallot, parsley, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and red wine vinegar in a bowl until blended; season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.
To assemble the dish, place the warm, sliced beets onto a serving dish, pour the vinaigrette over the beets, and sprinkle them with feta cheese before serving.
In a mixing bowl, cream 3/4 cup of the butter and the brown sugar. Add the eggs; mix well. Melt the chocolate with the remaining butter; stir until smooth. Cool slightly. Blend the chocolate mixture, beets and vanilla into the creamed mixture (the mixture will appear separated). Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch fluted tube pan. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack. Cool completely. Before serving, dust with confectioners' sugar.