Thursday, June 30, 2011

French Friday with Dorie: Chunky Beets and Icy Red Onions

I am in the mood to cook today.  I did well yesterday on my office paper work and on my to-do list and feel I deserve a fun day, especially one that results in good food for my family.  It is  extremely hot at 117^right now in Gilbert  (Phoenix is 114^ and these temps will continue for the next 2 weeks).  My readers may think I am off my rocker, but the heat invigorates me.  The AZ sun is like solar power that I have adjusted to feel is comforting and even addicting.  I love being outdoors, and I love to prepare foods that can be cooked and eaten outdoors.  

The Fourth of July holiday is coming up so I've decided on several summer salads,  red-white-and-blue desserts to bake, and foods for grilling.  (We will celebrate this holiday a few times...holidays sometimes go on for weeks around here...we just did Father’s Day twice.)  I  have decided to include our assigned Chunky Beets and Icy Red Onions as part of our pre-Fourth of July menu...the red works with our color scheme.


When we first moved to the Phoenix Valley, I was excited to plant a wonderful vegetable garden at our new home.  I staked out my plot and dug up the hard sunbaked ground, added good soil and fertilizers, bought my seeds and baby plants, and during the month of February, before the summer heat kicked in, my garden seemed to be flourishing.

Growing up in Utah and also living in upstate New York for 7 years, we had always enjoyed bountiful gardens that supplied not only our needs but the needs of all our neighbors.  It was part of my life to prepare, plant, care for, harvest, juice, pickle, preserve, freeze,  or can.  It is what one does in the summer and during harvest time.

I knew I was a great gardener and I was willing to work hard to grow my family’s organic foods, but AZ has other plans.  First of all, there is no good soil here and something happens to new, good soil that gets brought in....just disappears.  Second, it is just too hot.  Things start to die over 100^ no matter how much care they get.  Third, I can grow giant tomato plants, but only a few cherry tomato sized fruits are harvested.  Fourth, there are the dessert bugs...they appear in hoards all in one day and eat everything all at once before you can get to the poison store–and there goes the organic foods idea.  Fifth, we have birds.  And I mean birds.  Thousands of them and they know just when I plan to pick the food because in the night before I plan to harvest (happens that way every time just like clockwork) they eat everything the bugs did not want.  I wake up to nothing left.  No exaggeration.  One year I had beautiful and abundant apricots.  I was excited and planned to pick them in the morning, but during the night the birds got every apricot.  And, of course, they don’t eat the entire fruit, they peck a bite out one  fruit,  and then they go to the next and peck a bite, etc.  All totally ruined.  (I have Anna apples almost ready to harvest I will have to pick them  green  because if they get ripe the birds will get them first....and apples don’t ripen after picking but they will be good enough for pie.)
My garden rows of beets and carrots looked good.  I’ve tried to grow them different ways 3 or 4 times and they always look good in the beginning.  I must have thought that I had learned to be an AZ farmer and could grow beets.  But the hard-as-concrete dirt we have here (the Indians built homes from our dirt hundreds of years ago buy just adding a little water...and the homes are still here, even our monsoon rains do not wash them can just guess what happens to mud that gets into the bottoms of our shoes) grows root veges that are also hard-as-concrete and small as pebbles.  Very frustrating.  I think the hot sun petrifies them like the AZ pertified wood forest that turned to rock.

I harvested my beets, which were small, but I thought they might be lovely “baby beets.”  I boiled them and boiled them more, and boiled them more...and they remained hard as rocks.  Can’t be peeled because how do you peel a rock?  Can’t stick a knife in them so how could we ever put out teeth into them?  

I learned that, like I was told but wouldn’t listen, beets do not grow in AZ.  Sad.  Beets had previously been a “go to” vegetable along with peas, corn, and green of the big 4.  My little kids had loved them, especially pickled or hot with melted butter.  But I find that in AZ most locals have never tasted beets.  You can purchase them at the grocery store, but they are trucked in from somewhere, not fresh, and are expensive.
I was at Trader Joe’s and found beets in their fresh salads area, all cooked, peeled, and ready to eat.  I decided to try them in Dorie’s salad.  The prepared beets made the salad very quick and easy to ready, but I must say, I was disappointed with the results.  I was glad I had made several other summer salads for our meal.  The beet salad was tasted by most of my family, but no good son-in-law actually tasted beets for the first time with this salad, and it was not a good introduction.  I had thought my Russian daughters might enjoy the salad as they make lovely beet salads where they chop up the beets very small, add canned peas...must be canned...and chop up eggs, etc. and use a mayonnaise dressing.  It is quite good.  But they did not touch this Dorie beet salad.

Dorie suggests accompanying this beet salad with other foods such as goat cheese.  I’m happy that I just let this salad accompany a great meal that included other wonderful salads and foods.  In the end, it became unexciting leftovers.
But I will share a tasty and simple pickled beet recipe from my grandmother who was a terrific gardener and made my favorite pickled beets which she canned every year and brought to every family party.

Pickled Beets
as made by Kris’ grandmother, Hazel Baird

1 peck tender young beets

Cook until tender.  Peel off skins.  Make the following syrup:

2 C sugar
2 C water
2 C strong vinegar
1 tsp allspice
1 thinly-sliced lemon
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves

Bring syrup to a boil, pour over beets which have been placed into a pot, and simmer 15 minutes.  Pack in sterilized jars and seal.  (Or enjoy eating them without first canning.)   
Note:  If beets are larger than very small “baby” size, they can be sliced or quartered and used.

Happy Fourth of July to you all!  Hope you enjoy your holiday and have a great week!!!


  1. The look of your grandmother's beet salad is fantastic! However, I'm not a fan of beets, so the taste would be lost on me. Great photos though!

  2. I'll have to look for the beets at Trader Joe's, that would make this recipe a snap:-)
    Glad you enjoyed your beet salad, I had mine with goat cheese and it was delicious:-)

  3. Aw! I feel for you wanting to garden and grow your veggies and the weather not cooperating. Your grandmother's pickle reads so good!

  4. Sorry to hear that you can't get fresh beets in Arizona, but I guess each region has its pluses and minuses. I recall enviously reading your previous posts about picking fresh oranges from your backyard for a recipe, that must be a real treat! Though I am one of those who gets cranky when the thermometer goes over 90, so I would definitely not fare well in your climate.

  5. Kris, you're so funny! I used the same beets as you! No reason to feel guilty. I've roasted beets and steamed them & they are such a mess & so difficult to clean up. I truly think the ones from Trader Joe's are just as good and they're ready to use. Anyway, we loved the salad & the dressing was a perfect complement to the beets.

    Have a fabulous 4th of July!

  6. My mother makes lovely pickled beets, too - thanks for sharing your grandmother's recipe. I've finally got a raised bed garden and I'm hoping that I'll have some home-grown beets to experiment with this summer. I think I have the opposite gardening problem - Everything here grows too much - especially the blackberry cane and bindweed. I'm sorry your family didn't enjoy this recipe, but it sounds like you had a fabulous spread to compensate.

  7. I admire that you have, until moving to AZ, been able to grow vegetables - I just kill plants. This salad looks good, but I have to agree that I am not sure I'd like it as written in the book.

  8. We have horrible soil too...full of clay. We tried growing carrots, but they were just stumps :( Sorry the salad wasn't more popular with your family~

  9. Yes, I think you are off your rocker! We get some pretty good here in Australia and it just totally drains me! The fact it invigorates you totally inspires me and is making me think I need to see the heat in a new light!
    I love your description of AZ! I'm still laughing! And admiring your persistence and positive attitude!

  10. Kirs, We must be kindred spirts…the heat also invigorates me!! My husband thinks I'm crazy but give me a heat wave and I can do anythng…I hibernate during our cold winters! LOL! I also love to garden and just built tents for my berries, so the birds don't get them! Your beet salad looks wonderful…I will have to give it a try! Great post!

  11. I wish we had a Trader Joe's nearby. I agree that this wasn't super inspiring. Thanks for the pickled recipe.

  12. I enjoyed reading about your gardening travails! I live in Oklahoma and its not as hot as AZ but maybe its the wind, I don't know, its hard to grow veggies here. At least hard for me!

  13. Wow - after just spending the week in 90+ degree weather (where I at least had the ocean to keep things bearable), I don't know how you do it!
    The bird story made me want to cry - I have been there with corn and it is so frustrating!