My kitchen sometimes seems to have a problem of over-abundance. It’s not a bad problem to have, you understand. It’s much better than the other thing. But in part because of where my produce comes from — CSAs, farmers’ markets, Sarah’s garden, and the like — I have a kind of limited control over what comes into the house. Which means that fairly often, I end up with strange surfeits or even stranger imbalances.
Six pounds of cabbage and no onions, you say? For me — not an uncommon occurrence.
This is a problem, I seem to recall, that I wrote about last summer when the issue of the day was squash. Zucchini has notoriously high yields anyway, I think I said. And by the height of the season — just about the time it’s no longer novel — there’s so much of it around that farmers are selling it for next to nothing, and you’re forced to resort to leaving midnight care packages on your neighbor’s steps just to keep your own stock under control.
No winter vegetable has quite that level of … um … generosity. But the fact that the CSA to which I belong is a year-round enterprise now, and the fact that the crops that thrive in the Mid-Atlantic’s winter chill tend to be kind of limited, means that I’ve recently ended up with bag upon bag of Jerusalem artichokes, of turnips, and of bright red bull’s blood beets.
Which brings me to this week’s experiment.
Usually, my solution to a crisis in root-vegetable populations is to roast. Carrots, turnips, potatoes, and beets, diced small and roasted in a 400F oven with sausage or bacon on top, yields delicious one-bowl dinner — usually with enough left over for lunch the next day. But delicious as that mix is, it leaves its own impression of over-abundance. Eaten week after week to continually cull the refrigerator-bound root-vegetable herd, it eventually begins to evoke a sense that you are — or at least I am — eating a single meal, one portion at a time, over the course of an entire season.
This week I had to have something different. And as I stared at the several bags of beets that had accumulated in my produce drawer, it occurred to me: pancakes. So I pulled out the shredder. I pulled out the invaluable Flavor Bible for seasoning advice. And I got started.
Just as a word of warning: these beet pancakes are very red. Bull’s-blood beets — which to me are the best beets — are particularly vivid. They will stain your kitchen. They will stain your hands. And I don’t want to wander too far into distasteful territory, but they will remain red even after they are ingested.
Please do not let that deter you from making beet pancakes, though. Beet pancakes are deliciously sweet and savory. Their outside parts caramelize as they cook, resulting in all sorts of crispy goodness. And that whole fried-in-fat thing aside, beets themselves are among the healthiest foods around.
Here’s how to do it:
6-8 Beets (preferably red, preferably of the bull’s blood variety, if you can get them)
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 tsp Dried Tarragon (generous)
Zest of one Orange
Vegetable Oil (or if you can manage it, duck fat)
Wash your beets, and shred them — skin and all — using a cheese grater or (preferably) the shredding disk of a food processor. Salt them. About a half a teaspoon will be enough. Then leave them in a colander to drain for about an hour.
At the end of that hour, heat a skillet over a medium-high flame. Squeeze the shredded beets well to release as much of their liquid as you can. Then move them to a medium bowl and mix well with the flour, egg, and spices.
Adjust the seasoning to taste, and lubricate the pan.
Then, a scant half cup at a time, form them into flattened balls and fry them in batches of four or five, keeping the finished ones hot by moving them onto a platter in a warm oven.
Each batch should take ten to twelve minutes in total to cook, and you should flip your pancakes twice — once halfway through, and then again about a minute before they’re done.
This recipe should make about a dozen beet pancakes in all. And it will certainly make your house smell like oranges.