When you were little you stared with wonder at the bright pink disks served before you at dinner. Your eyes traced the exotic patterns, light and dark pink swirls, and your mother smiled and said “these are beets, they are a vegetable” and you felt as if she had just introduced you to a unicorn. THEY WERE PINK and when you touched them they stained your fingers the prettiest color. You were certain that beets were invented just for you, until..you put the pretty morsel into your mouth. The bitter flavor was too adult for your little palate, but you WANTED to like them. Slowly you brought little bites up to your lips, and though your face went sour every time, you forced a smile for your mother, eager to show of your sophistication. Your lips grew pink from the hesitant bites that crammed against the closed mouth forced open. Your mother could not suppress her laughter.
Beets were enticing in the days where all you every wanted to be when you grew up was 16. You skipped over them at holidays on your way to the children’s table. You would not have been able to keep them off of your little white dress. You watched curiously as your towering aunts and uncles neatly nibbled on neon pink beet slices with smiles of delight.
In college you lived with the radical environmentalists, who bought everything free range, local, organic and grass fed. They brought home boxes of dirty round roots with long curly points and leafy green stems. You observed as the short, dark haired, sophomore girl wearing homemade clothing shaved down the dirt of one of these curious creatures and revealed an intoxicating bright pink swirl of beet underneath. She showed you how to slice them thin and cook them with a little bit of water. She showed you how to pinch the salt, to sprinkle evenly, and how when the cooking is done you bathe them in vinegar to cure the bitterness. You ate them with chopsticks then, hungry for any experience not charted on the map of your upbringing.
One day, after the dogma of college years had melted onto your palate of life experience, you stopped into a neighborhood café on the water. You were enjoying the sound of the ocean and the feel of the warm deck beneath your feet as you toyed with the prospect of discretely removing your sandals. The sun still lit up the sky, but hung low enough to reflect golden light on your skin, like a desk lamp, conjuring the pensive glow of evening. A plate was placed before you and you stared with wonder at the bright pink disks on stark white background over tangles of green lettuce. It was the beet and goat cheese salad. The beets had the perfect softness, and your teeth felt like they were made to cut them. These were the beets you had imagined during your childhood, which you were not yet ready to experience. Here at this restaurant, with awakened senses, you finally met the beets that had been waiting for you all along.
I cannot eat beets without expecting the smooth feel of goat cheese on my tongue. After years of eating beet and goat cheese salads they are now like the songs that come on my play list back to back; as soon as beet ends I start singing to goat cheese.
It is a hot day today, so I added some cucumber to this salad for a cooling effect.
Rinse and chop a bunch of spinach (if you have arugula use it instead of spinach. I love arugula, but I don’t have any today). Add 1 medium peeled, diced cucumber. Add ¼ diced red onion. Stir the spinach, cucumber and onion together and drizzle with the juice of 1 small lemon and 3 Tbsp olive oil. Add some salt and pepper. Shave and slice 1 bunch baby beets and cook them in 1 inch of boiling water (optional, add some mint leaves to the water but remove them before serving the beets). When you like the texture, stop cooking and rinse with cold water. Season beets with ume plum vinegar. Pour beets on top of salad. Garnish with goat cheese dollops, or stir the goat cheese in to make a creamy pink dressing.
Christina's vote: "made my tongue burn with delight"