Recipe: Dirt Candy

11 Oct

So, beets. Let me start by saying I like beets. I like them, a lot. Okay? I know people get weird squeamish food prejudices about vegetables because they’ve been subjected to subdued canned versions growing up or in school cafeterias, but I even like canned beets. I think they’re great.

Raw beets, however, are not as tasty to me. I like them baked wrapped in foil or pickled, but I’m not as keen on them even when sliced attractively thin on a plate mixed in with carrots. I could probably grow accustomed to that musty-earth flavor, but I’m too busy eating them other ways to try.

Enter, dirt candy. This recipe for curing root vegetables (and butternut squash) in sugar caught my eye and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Curing the vegetables in this way allows them to retain the crispness of texture while softening the raw bite of their flavor through curing. The sugar pulls all the moisture out of the vegetable, shrinking it and transforming the flavor. It came to mind immediately when I noticed golden beets at the Farmer’s Market.

In the interest of eating the whole plant and thereby saving money, I first cooked the beet greens.

Golden beet greens are less photogenic than regular beet greens because they do not have the shockingly ruby red veins contrasting against the dark green leaves. I used this recipe, which was delicious but I don’t have a photo. Cooked greens are not photogenic.

I had a few beets to work with and before I made candy I sliced some up and made beet chips using the same method I used for the butternut squash. I loved them, though not as much as I loved the squash chips. Their earthiness translated almost to a smokiness, which was nice.

(That dip you see next to them was a mixture of sour cream, Greek yogurt, and dill. And I had rather more than what is pictured on the plate.)

While the chips were baking and the greens were bubbling I started on the candy. The instructions are as follows: 1. dice beets, 2. cover with a pile of sugar, 3. wait. Aside from some light stirring that happens over the course of a couple days,that’s it. You cover it, set it in the fridge, and let nature do its thing.

Nature doesn’t mess around. After the first half hour I drained off this much liquid already.

I know what you are thinking: that looks like Mountain Dew at best and a very sick person’s urine sample at worst. That’s 100% sugary golden beet juice.  I thought about reducing to a syrup and adding to Greek yogurt. Twitter was not enthusiastic about this idea.

After I took the photo, of course, I poured the liquid back over the beets and stashed them in the fridge and waited, stirring intermittently, for two days. But you don’t have to wait that long! Thanks to the magic of the internet I can show you the result…

The liquid darkened. The beet pieces had shrunk but remained firm and they glowed as if from within. They were good. They were very good.

They tasted like beets but without that full raw bite. And the concentration of sugars made them sweet, like, well, candy. As I ate them I thought, wow. I bet these would be even better roasted. Totally unnecessary of course. Gilding the lily, really. But once I had the idea I couldn’t let go of it, so onto an oiled baking tray they went. Ten minutes later…

They were gorgeous. The exterior sugars caramelized and scorched in places while beets became a mixture of chewy in some places and crisp in others. I could have eaten a popcorn bag full. Add some sea salt and it was better than candy. They would make an amazing garnish.

7 Responses to “Recipe: Dirt Candy”

  1. mark @ yelling near you October 11, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    Clever idea and one I’ve never heard before. I’m intrigued, not being a big fan of beets. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for beets and other root vegetables at the market.

    • LittleBig October 11, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

      Everyone loves carrots! You should start there.

  2. Anne G October 11, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    I love roasted red beets! I didn’t know anyone at them raw, probably not for me, but I will definitely be trying this out. Reminds me I want to try your squash chips too. I haven’t seen golden beets around, will check at farmers market this weekend. Thanks for the post! (I can’t even make cooked greens look happy on the plate in person, but so tasty…)

    • LittleBig October 12, 2011 at 10:56 am #

      I served the greens with a creamy pasta, and I think that made them amazing. The cream takes that biting edge off. I never really ate greens growing up, except for spinach, so I think I need to keep cooking and eating them to develop the hankering for them.

  3. Heidi October 11, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    Beets and goat cheese are my favorite combination: I bet if you mixed that beet juice in with some goat cheese, it would make the most amazing dressing/dip ever.

    • LittleBig October 12, 2011 at 10:57 am #

      YES! Beets and goat cheese are amazing. That is a FANTASTIC suggestion.

  4. Marie November 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    Oh THAT dirt candy! See what happens when I don’t check in on your blog often enough? I miss all this good stuff. I love beets or, as we call them here, beetroot, in any form. I haven’t really had them sliced raw, but I do like to eat them grated raw with grated carrots and a bit of dressing or even just plain. As soon as someone mentioned the feta my mouth started salivating for these little candies mixed with blocks of salty feta, whoa!

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