The Heat is On

The East Coast is just barely getting over the first heat wave of the summer, that meteorologists are already announcing a second, albeit milder, less humid one. Last week's heat and humidity was brutal: I don't know about you, but I was subsisting on a mostly liquid diet, and would only regain my appetite late at night.

All this heat has been a little more favourable to plants and vegetables. Ontario's soft fruits are hitting market shelves two weeks earlier than usual. Although some regions in Quebec were a little drier than others, on the whole, the humidity in the air allowed the soil to remain quite damp, so most plants managed to handle the excessive heat unscathed. However, the continued spate of heat means that baby veg are quickly growing into big ones, and market shelves are overfilled with gorgeous produce. Like these beautiful beets.

They are still very tender, juicy and thin-skinned, just like baby beets, but they are just about the same size as the beets one finds in the winter, without the candy-like sweetness. They are lovely raw in a Whole Beet Salad: just barely peeled, sliced thin, the leaves and pretty stems shredded, and dressed lightly with a splash of vinegar or lemon juice and a drizzle of oil, salt and pepper to taste. Just what the doctor ordered to ward off heat fatigue: the iron content in both the root and the leaves are an excellent tonic, and will vivify any sluggish temper.

I've finally joined the throng of people who barbecue on their balconies! I found a barbecue small enough for my miniature balcony. Now if only I can figure out how to get the charcoal properly lit... In the meantime, I am 'mastering' the art of slow cooking on the barbecue (mostly out of necessity!)

For those of you who still have not developed a liking for raw beets, barbecues are the way to go: char the skin over a medium fire, then move the beets to a cooler spot on the grill. It will take at least 45 minutes to cook, if not longer, but it's well worth the wait: the charred skin imbues the flesh with a nice smokiness, while the slow cooking brings out all the beets' sweetness.

Since they do take some time to cook, grill some extra beets and save them for another time. They will easily keep for a week in your fridge. And please! Do not throw away the greens! They are a lovely addition to any salad, and they are also scrumptious cooked. In fact, if you like swiss chard, you will love beet greens; if you, like me, are not too fond of swiss chard, you will LOVE beet greens.

Don't ask me why, I do not know, but despite my best efforts, I still do not quite like swiss chard. I will eat it, and I have been known to help myself to seconds, but I prefer not to eat chard, especially the pretty, colourful ones with thin stems. I do like white swiss chard, with ribs that are close to 5cm (2") wide: those chards are mild, bordering on bland. But the thin-ribbed Rainbow Chard is too astringent for my liking, it leaves my teeth all raspy and my tongue quite furry.

Beet greens look just like Ruby Chard, in fact, they are siblings: both beet and chard have the same Latin name Beta vulgaris. Just like any siblings, they have similarities and differences: beet greens are milder than chard, not as astringent, but can be used pretty much the same way. My favourite way to eat beet greens is in a warm salad with the charred root.

Warm Salad of Charred Beets and Greens
Serves 2 as a main dish, or 4 as a starter

3 or 4 beets, medium-sized, with the greens
2 cloves garlic, new season if possible
fresh goat cheese or silken tofu, optional
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon sweet-flavoured vinegar (balsamic, raspberry or cider)
3 tablespoon olive oil

Trim leaves from the beetroots, leaving about 3cm (1") of stem on the root: this will prevent the beets from bleeding.
Wash the roots and leaves. Keep the greens in the refrigerator until needed.
Grill the beets. They do not need to be cooked through, but are tastiest if charred all around.
Set aside until cool enough to handle. With a small knife, scrape off the skin, rinse under cold water.
Slice beetroot into bite-sized chunks. Leave to marinate with the vinegar, salt and pepper while you prepare the rest of the salad.
In a pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat.
Roughly chop the garlic cloves, you want it to be chunky, not too fine. Add to the hot oil.
When the garlic starts to sizzle, throw in the beet greens.
It will only take about 30 seconds for the greens to wilt.
Remove from the heat, and add the beetroot.
Add the goat cheese, or silken tofu, only once you have plated up the salad, to avoid marring its pristine whiteness.
You can also add some fresh croûtons - toasted cubes of stale bread, drizzled with oil- or simple serve with a nice loaf of bread.

Bon app'!


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