Make These Quick Pickled Beets And Red Onions In 24 Hours

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It’s often said that we eat with our eyes. And that’s true enough, but if it were entirely true, wouldn’t we be devouring beets, with their luscious deep magenta hue, much more than we do? As for me, when I’m craving a vegetable, beets are seldom at the top of my list. And yet, I do enjoy roasted beets in a salad, or a hearty beet borscht soup, or crisp pickled beets. With their dominant flavor and color, beets are not as widely useful as say, carrots, but cast in their proper role, they can be very good indeed.

Historically, beets seem to have originated in the Mediterranean region, and culturally they are most associated with the cuisines of central and east Europe. Botanically, beets are in the same family as chard, spinach and quinoa. Nutritionally, they uniquely contain betalains, which are thought to be strong antioxidants. Members of this family also may contain oxalates, which in large quantities, for some people may inhibit calcium absorption. Generally though, for most people, the health benefits of eating members of this family are believed  to far outweigh the risks. For maximum nutritional benefit, dice the beets and steam them for about 15 minutes, serve with your favorite light dressing. And if you find beets with tender, fresh stems and leaves still attached, those are highly edible as well. Cook as you would other green vegetables.

As for this recipe, I’d never made pickled beets before and because I’d put them on the menu for our Monday night dinner last week, I had no choice but to come up with a recipe. Procrastinator that I am, I waited until the last minute to make these pickles. Hence the word “quick” in the title. And thus was born a recipe for pickles which can be made in 24 hours.  You may quibble that these beets are more “marinated” than “pickled,”and you might be right. If you have time to leave them in the pickling brine for several days, they’ll probably be even better. Use red beets, or a combination of red and golden beets as I did. In either case, the colors will be spectacular. Recipe, after the jump.

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Produce Superstars: Are Apples An Endangered Species?

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Apples are one the oldest and most widely-grown of all plants cultivated by man, and to answer the question posed by my headline: no, apples as such are not endangered, but thousands of apple varieties most definitely are. One hundred years ago, as many as 15,000 varieties of apples were cultivated in the U.S., whereas today, eleven varieties make up 90% of all apples grown commercially. They’re the usual suspects: Fuji, Pink Lady, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala, Granny Smith, and so on. So, imagine my surprise when I saw these ping pong ball-sized heirloom beauties in the organic section of my local supermarket. Upon doing a little research, I discovered there are two feel-good stories here. One has to do with heirloom apples, the other with the farmers who grew them.

So, what are heirloom apples? You’ve probably seen, bought or possibly even grown heirloom tomatoes, old varieties which were once common, but which have almost disappeared. With apples, it’s the same idea: conserving old varieties keeps us in touch with our cultural history, safeguards genetic diversity, and provides us with a greater choice of tastes, textures, colors and culinary possibilities. Prominent among groups promoting heirloom apples is the Slow Food Movement which has published a wonderful booklet on the subject. In the Bay Area, Slow Food Russian River promotes Gravenstein apples in Sonoma County, where orchards have been declining for decades due to suburbanization and conversion to vineyards.

But, I digress. The crunchy, moist apples I bought are Crimson Gold, a variety developed in the 1940’s by crossing two other heirloom varieties, Yellow Newton and Esopus Spitzenburg, a crab apple. Crimson Golds had all but disappeared by the 1970’s, when they were rediscovered, and now they’re grown in small quantities in a half dozen commercial orchards. With a nice balance of sweet and tart, they are great for eating when you want a little snack, something less than a large apple. They’d be perfect to pack in lunch boxes or to carry in your pocket. I haven’t tried baking them, but, reportedly, they hold up well, maintaining good texture. I think you could simply pull off the stem and bake them whole.

The other feel good part of this story is that they are grown by a quality-conscious, family-owned business, Cuyama Orchards, in California’s Santa Barbara County. Howard and Jean Albano have been growing apples since the 1990’s on a farm 30 miles east of Santa Barbara. At 3,200 foot in elevation, their sixty acres of organic orchards produce well-known varieties such as Pink Lady, Fuji and Gala, but they’re also committed to growing heirloom varieties which they test market at Southern California farmer’s markets.  Recently, they’ve planted 200 trees each of heirloom apples from France and Turkey. Having grown up on a farm, I’m in touch with what a risky life it is, and so, I salute the Albano family for creating a thriving business and for helping to keep alive a part of our cultural heritage which could so easily be lost.

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Think You Don’t Like Cabbage? This Jewel-Toned Dish Could Change Your Mind

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It’s often said that we eat with our eyes. If that’s the case, wouldn’t this colorful Swedish Red Cabbage be welcome on any holiday table?  The secret alchemy of turning raw “red” cabbage, which is really more or less purple, into this deep magenta is in slow caramelization, and the application of fresh lemon juice. Similar red cabbage dishes appear in the cuisines of most northern European countries, but it seems that the addition of cloves and allspice marks this as Swedish. As in so many dishes, the trick is to achieve that magical balance of salt, sweet and tart. In this recipe, I’ve offered you a range of sweet and tart quantities.  In order to achieve the full magenta which you see in the photo, you’ll probably need to add more lemon juice, which means you’ll need to add a bit more salt and sweetener as well.  For everyday meals, maybe go with the lesser amounts, but for a holiday, I’d go all out. You’ll create a dish which tastes as beautiful as it looks.

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Produce Superstars: Red Kuri Squash Shines In This Simple Miso Soup

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I awoke this morning wondering (among other things) what to do with the half of a red kuri squash which had been lounging in my fridge for a week.  I knew that, while it was still good, it wasn’t getting any better and needed to be used. As far as I’m concerned, winter squash and miso soup are made for each other. For one thing, winter squash is in season as the days grow cooler, just as our appetites turn to soup.  For another, their natural sweetness contrasts wonderfully with miso’s mellow saltiness. And while all winter squash are versatile and easy to like, I find red kuris to be especially sweet and flavorful (I’ve written about them here). Having said that, if you find an especially good looking butternut, kabocha, or buttercup squash at your market, any of those would be a fine substitute. You’ll also appreciate that, aside from the squash and  green onions, the ingredients in this recipe  you probably have in your pantry already. Try this soup for breakfast, lunch or dinner– it’s a comforting addition to any meal.

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Test Your Produce IQ: Can You Identify These Unusual Fruits?

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Back in June, I asked you to test your knowledge of unusual vegetables which I’d photographed at Berkeley Bowl, the great East Bay produce market. Today, I’m asking you to have a go at identifying a dozen fruits, also found at Berkeley Bowl. The answers are at the end of this post, but try guessing and see how many you can come up with, and then send us a comment telling how well you did. Are you a produce whiz, or do you have room for improvement?  Take this quiz and let us know! My previous post of the vegetable quiz is here. Good luck!

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Produce Superstars: If You Want to Eat More Kale, Here’s a Refreshing Way to Do It.

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I know you’ve heard what a nutritional powerhouse kale is, and if you’re like me, you’ve probably vowed to eat more of this highly-regarded cruciferous vegetable.  Although I happily eat most veggies, up until now kale has not been one of my favorites. Boiled, it seemed rather stodgy and boring, and while it’s good stir fried with garlic, that gets tiresome too. Lately, to my surprise, I’ve become an enthusiastic convert to eating kale raw. I’ve discovered that the secret to making an appetizing kale salad is to take it off the stem, cut it fine (think coleslaw), and marinate it for an hour or more in a tasty dressing. Another secret, of course, is to use only tender, young kale, either grow your own, or be a very selective shopper. If kale isn’t available, cabbage or collard greens would be happy to receive similar treatment. I think you’ll agree that when the weather heats up, this Citrusy Red Kale and Arugula Salad is a refreshing alternative to the usual mixed greens (recipe after the jump).

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Think You Know Your Veggies? Take This Produce IQ Test And Find Out!

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I imagine readers of this blog to be pretty savvy when it comes to produce, but take a look at the unusual vegetables I photographed yesterday at Berkeley Bowl, one of America’s premiere produce markets. Most every time I shop there, I see something new to me, and many of these veggies would have stumped me before I became a devoted Berkeley Bowl shopper. After the jump, you’ll see photos of ten vegetables.  How many do you recognize? The answers are at the end of this post, but try not to look until you’ve finished attempting to identify all ten.  Leave a comment, and let other readers know how well you did! In a future post, we’ll look at exotic fruits.

Photo above: Mystery vegetable number ten may not be what it appears to be at first glance.

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