Some people are immune to the allure of beets. I do not count myself amongst them. I like beets cooked, roasted, raw, pickled, diced, sliced, grated, or whole. I like them in a house, I like them with a mouse. I would eat them in a box, I would eat them with a fox. (Name that Dr. Seuss book!) So yeah … I really like beets!
Come winter time in Iran, street vendors sell steaming hot laboo — peeled, boiled beets skewered one on top of another in a cart — given to you wrapped in parchment, hot to the touch, and you eat it just like that, right there on the street.
My father also told me a story of how when he was a child, he and his friends would buy beets and take it to their friendly local noonva (Persian breadmaker) who would oblige them by roasting the beets in the bakery’s tanoor (huge open fire ovens like this nooneh sangak bakery oven.) My father and his friends would then let the roasted beets cool off, peel off its skin, and bite into it like a wonderful snack. (When I try to imagine this scene – it seems quaint and entirely too picturesque & innocent. Like a charming black and white scene from a Truffaut film.)
A good beet (is hard to find, boroom boom) has an earthy flavor – which makes sense as it is a root vegetable literally dug out of the earth – and it also has a sweetness plus a subtle acidic flavor that makes for an overall mellow and sophisticated taste.
It needs be mentioned that a beet’s green top is edible as well — it tastes like spinach on steroids, leafy but good and nutritious. You can chop it up into a salad; use it with the herbs-mixture of the kookoo sabzi; add it to an āsh as my dear friend Banafsheh likes to do; or use it to make vegetable stock. A cautionary note: consuming beetroot leaves is only a good idea when using organic pesticide free beets. Otherwise, let it go.
My very favorite beet dish is a very simple, very tasty, quite refreshing, and visually delightful-to-behold Iranian food we call laboo va mast (sometimes called borani ‘ye laboo) that is served year round as an appetizer or side dish, but that come summertime can double duty as a light meal (with some yummy bread.)
Yogurt is an excellent partner for beet: its creamy texture offsetting the earthy sweet flavor of beets in a way sure to delight the taste buds. (You may recall from an earlier post the story of how the entire vegetable + yogurt genre of borani owes its existence to the finicky palette of Queen Porandokht. As a devout borani-enthusiast, I am forever grateful to this ancient Persian queen.)
A second and final cautionary note : beets are colorful. Literally. When handling beets, it’s inevitable that you will get your hands and cutting board stained a magenta/red color. Don’t worry though, your hands and cutting boards are safe. The stains do come off after a wash or two (or three.) Just enjoy it as an impermanent body art while it lasts.
You won’t need a fortune teller to know that a good laboo va mast makes for a fortunate belly.
- 2 medium-sized beets
- 2-3 cups of thick creamy yogurt (preferably whole milk)
- a few sprigs of fresh mint (optional for garnish)
- 1/4 cup of roasted walnuts (optional for garnish)
- 2 tablespoons salt (or more to taste)
- Wash beets, top and tail, and scrub clean. Chop off the green tops and stalk. Peel the clean beets and cut into 1/2″ slices.
- Place beets in a pot and cover with enough water to cover at least an inch over the beets. Add to 2 tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil and adjust heat so that water continues to boil very gently. Boil beets in this fashion for approximately 15-20 minutes – or until tender enough to pierce with a fork. (Do not overcook.) Drain beets and allow to cool.
- While beets cool off, whip yogurt with a fork to thicken the texture; then divide amongst two serving bowls.
- Top each bowl of yogurt with 4-6 slices of cooked beets. Stir (quite sparingly) with a fork to create a pretty pattern of colorful whirls in the yogurt. (Do not over stir, else the dish will turn into a dramatically lurid purple gloop that deceptively looks like an ice cream parfait than a savory food. Hey, wait … and that’s a problem, why?
Garnish with fresh mint springs and/or coarsely chopped walnuts if you wish.
Serve as an appetizer, a dip, or a light meal with some type of flat bread. Perfect fare for a hot summer.
Beet borani also makes a lovely side dish for rich meat-centric dishes as well.
Dig in and nooseh jaan!