beet juice
April 8, 2007

There was an artist at Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival some years back whose piece involved a giant ball of frozen beet juice dripping over a bed of salt. Poppy's mother went on for several days about it until we'd all teased her sufficiently. Certainly beets provide some of food's most incandescent by-products: If you squeezed a ruby, you imagine it might give off beet juice.

Still, I get the same reaction every time I tell people (even my mother) that I'm making beet soup for Easter lunch: a wince, a pause, and then, "That sounds interesting. Do you mean borscht?" Well, sort of, except creamier (and, I don't add, but think to myself, prettier). It's been kind of bleak in Brooklyn these days, and I want a colorful Easter table.

I know it's going to be messy going (the ever-prudent commenters on suggest using canned beets to preserve what I can only assume are exceedingly delicate hands), but my fingers stay remarkably stain-free, and I don't even have to resort of rubbing them with salt and lemon (lucky since I have a few fresh paper cuts). What does surprise me are the greens. There seems to be no end to them. I had planned lunch to include a salad of arugula, fennel, shaved parmesan and a lemon dressing, but before adding more greenery to the crisper, I sample the beet greens. They're bitter and certainly grassier than other greens, but they come off well with the lemon dressing. I sort of imagine them like a very herbal sauvignon blanc.

There's plenty of farfalle and lime-rubbed flank steak to go around—and Rebecca is bringing cake—in case everyone remains as beet-resistent as I've sensed. But, in fact, all five of us clean both soup bowls and salad plates, in addition to everything else. (It does go to show that adding half-and-half to anything makes it crowd-pleaser.)

Later I'm talking to Poppy, recalling her mother's beet wonder—and Poppy offers my first atypical beet reaction. "I really can't comment on beet art," she says, "but sauteed beet greens in lemon juice are excellent." (Also good for detoxing.) So that night I sauté the rest of the greens (which takes some work, considering beet greens have more or less taken over the lower part of the fridge) in lemon and garlic, with a healthy sprinkling of salt. It's excellent—but I have to wince a little when pink juice drips across the stovetop. Even the greens could stain your hands?

Maybe we are supposed to leave bleeding vegetables to the avant-garde.