Beets' bad rap is entirely undeserved — like most veggies, they're the victim of bad marketing and excessive boiling (not to mention overzealous canners). To do the sweet, earthy vegetables right, fire up the grill.
The first thing to remember is don't waste your time with baby beets. "A lot of people think they’re beautiful, boutique, and cute, but an adult, big beet has much more flavor and sweetness," says John Harris, the chef and owner of New Orleans’ Lilette. Look for some big, firm, round beets — preferably organic.
Cut off the greens and stems, saving them for a future salad, and rinse the beets under water. Some chefs don’t even bother washing the beets, as you’ll be pulling off the skin anyway, but go ahead and give them a quick rinse before putting them on the boil.
There's no need to add salt to your water — this isn't pasta; it's not going to penetrate the beet's thick skin, anyway, Harris says.
Cooking time involves a bit of guesswork, depending on the size of your beets and how many you’re boiling at once. Expect to wait somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour. Check their doneness with a knife — "if you feel it catching, it still needs to cook," says Harris.
Just don’t over-boil: "Don't be afraid to have a little bit of texture," Harris says. A little bit of firmness goes a long way: The beet will taste better and hold its shape. Watery, overcooked beets will fall apart on the grill. "They're forgiving, but you still need to cook them on point."
Let the beets cool a bit until you can handle them without burning your hand. Under cold, running water — or, if it's easier, in a filled bowl — push the skin off with your thumb. "It comes off right in your hand," says Harris.
Slice into quarter-inch slices and then marinate: Harris uses a combination of olive oil and a house-made creole spice, which "caramelizes nicely on the grill," but he says you can substitute a mix from your grocery store. The beets can marinate for a few days, if you’d like — or throw them straight on the grill. (If you do marinate overnight, make sure they’ve cooled before putting them in the fridge, otherwise bacteria could grow.
Heat your grill to high and throw on your beets. You’re looking for a nice char, "black, not brown," says Harris. Cook for about four minutes, then flip. The beets will end up a bit bitter, which is okay — your vinaigrette will mellow it out.
"Beets are kind of one-dimensional," Harris says. "Charring gives it a whole new complexity. I always hated beets until I had them grilled."
Speaking of the vinaigrette: Start off by toasting some walnuts in butter. Strain the butter and combine with walnut oil, red wine vinegar, and another oil — ideally grapeseed. Toss with the beets while warm, letting some of the beet color seep into the vinaigrette.
The salad doesn’t need a ton of dressing up to be delicious: Just add the toasted walnuts, sliced chives, and chèvre (no need for the "boutique, fancy goat cheese," says Harris — use whatever you can find).
Or skip all the preparation and eat your beets raw: Shaved into a raw salad alongside some brussels sprouts, fennel, carrots, and onions, "you can totally eat them raw," Harris says.
Raw or charred, you might be surprised by how delicious beets can be.
Grilled Beets with Goat Cheese and Walnuts from Lilette Restaurant, New Orleans, Louisiana
- 5 large red beets
- Creole seasoning
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1⁄4 lb butter
- 1⁄4 cup walnut oil
- 1⁄4 cup blended oil
- 1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar
- 4 oz goat’s milk cheese
- 1⁄2 cup chives, baton cut
- Boil whole beets in water until tender. Clean off the skins with a towel, while the beets are still fairly hot. Slice beets into pieces roughly 1/4–inch thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and creole seasoning.
Cook the walnuts in a sauté pan over low heat with the butter. Allow the butter to rise above the walnuts, tossing the walnuts during the process, until golden and toasted. Strain the walnuts, saving the walnut saturated butter.
Make a walnut vinaigrette by combining the blended oil, walnut oil, red wine vinegar, and walnut butter.
Grill the seasoned, sliced beets until charred. Toss beets with walnut vinaigrette.
Plate each dish with 3 to 4 beet slices, add some walnuts, crumbled goat cheese and garnish with chives.
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