Archives for posts with tag: beets

I grew up only vaguely aware of my heritage. Unlike some of my college friends who were raised in communities that were overwhelmingly German or Norwegian, my hometown was a mishmash of early 20th century European immigrants – German, Scandinavian, English, a smattering of Dutch.

My father was 100 percent Swedish (though he and his brothers loved to tease us that Grandma was part Indian, which we believed for an unreasonable number of years). So I grew up eating Swedish meatballs with cream gravy, rice pudding, a fried dough called fattigmand, and sweet yeast rolls fragrant with cinnamon that replaced the cardamom traditional to Sweden. Lingonberries couldn’t be found in South Dakota, but berry jam was a good substitute.

In 2006, CRR and I traveled to Sweden to check out my ancestral homeland. I didn’t really give the food much thought, given what I grew up with, until I started reading up for the trip. The guidebooks explained why pickled herring played such a prominent role in the salad bars of my youth, and the difference between salmon lox and gravlax. I became enamored of a dish with the whimsical name of pyttipanna, a hash with beets. When we arrived in Stockholm, we made a beeline for a restaurant specializing in pyttipanna in the cobblestoned old town district.Pyttipanna

I don’t remember what CRR ordered but I was besotted with … hash. I think the beets made the difference from an American hash, adding a natural sweetness that complemented the onion.

So when I harvested a bunch of beets this week, memories of our Sweden trip flooded back and pyttipanna came to mind. It is a perfect supper or brunch dish.

Pyttipanna (recipe courtesy of the Berns Hotel, the 1860s hotel where we stayed)

Saute diced onion in olive oil until translucent. Then add equal amounts of cooked diced potato, diced beet and diced meat (I used Italian sausage because I had some on hand; I have also used leftover beef and pork). Saute on mid-to-high heat until browned to taste. Season with salt and pepper. Place into bowls, top with poached or over-easy eggs that will run into the hash when broken. Close your eyes and dream of fjords and Vikings.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

The first beets are in! After lording it over my gardening sibs (who demanded time-stamped proof), what to do with the first beets of the season?

I love all-things-beets. But the first beets get the unadulterated treatment. I simmered them til almost tender, skinned them, and ate a bowlful for dinner. That’s all: Beets, a spritz of butter, a sprinkle of salt and pepper. You can almost feel the iron coursing through your veins. Move over Popeye! (and if you know who Popeye is, well, you’ve dated yourself)

One lone beet survived the initial beet-fest. I thought through my beet possibilities. Beet goat cheese dip, from our friends Ruth and Tim? Mandoline-thin slices of beet topped with salad and goat cheese? Or perhaps a knockoff of a quinoa salad I had at Virtue Feed & Grain in Old Town Alexandria?

Done. I love quinoa and the Lone Beet provided the excuse to reinvent Cathal Armstrong’s recipe.

Beet Quinoa Salad

Cook one cup quinoa according to package instructions. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, dice one beet into small ruby-colored cubes and snip a handful of chives. The restaurant’s recipe calls for paper thin slices of radishes, but I substituted apple slices since my radish crop had ended. The former gives the salad a peppery bite; the apple instead added a little sweetness. Mix up a lemon vinaigrette. Gently mix the quinoa with the other ingredients, salt & pepper to taste. Then sprinkle with goat cheese. Enjoy. Serves 4 as a side dish.

Share your favorite beet recipes, because we are about to come into a beet bonanza!

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA. Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

Chris and I joked last night about how wonderful it is to have house-husbands. We come home from work each day to a freshly mowed lawn and dinner on the table. Our husbands recently took buyouts from USA Today after long, distinguished careers, and are enjoying a well-deserved summer of leisure. Chris and I are the beneficiaries.

One night last week, dinner included members of our church stewardship committee. CRR brined a turkey breast and grilled it in the ceramic roaster contraption that one of the boys gave him. It was moist and wonderful. But the star of the show was the first beets of the season.

chioggia beets

chioggia beets

CRR harvested half a dozen of the Detroit Red Supreme beets and the Chioggia striped beets. He boiled them til tender, let them cool to room temp, then thinly sliced the beets. Then he fanned the dark red beets on the outside of a white platter, and carefully arranged an inner circle of the striped beets. In the very center of the plate, he placed a cloud of crumbled goat cheese. With a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil, the dish was complete. And it was gorgeous. Yes, I should have taken a photo to post with this blog item, but the church committee was arriving and I ran out of time.

I can tell you the beautiful beets were oohed and aahed over, and then devoured. Compliments to CRR, whose domestic god talents are in full roar this summer.

Happy Father’s Day to the father of our two sons.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.


Here is the mystery plant. If you can guess what it is, we’ll share whatever…”it”…produces this summer!

mystery veg

mystery veg


I hadn’t visited the garden in about 10 days. CRR was there every day, so it seemed redundant to make a site visit when he gave me a 5-minute report each evening –along with a nice salad as evidence.

Ten days turned out to be an eternity in vegetable years. Apparently, 90-degree heat and abundant rain was all our little vegetables needed to muscle their way toward puberty. Two tomato plants – Indigo Rose and Brandywine – sport little fruits about the size of a small egg. One pepper plant brandishes a 2-inch-long jalapeno. We’ll be eating the first beets this week – some of the red ones are already 2-3 inches across.

Our only cherry tomato seems to be in need of some TLC but with we are left scratching our heads because rain and sun have both been plentiful. The peas have pooped out, victim to some rust or blight that afflicts us every year. The lettuce and spinach seem to be surviving on the rain, heat be damned.

And we have two “mystery” guests – volunteers that every year we swear we will eradicate upon sight. But CRR, of the tender heart, is nursing these two lucky orphans along. In our haste to get to the baseball game today (Go Nats!), we neglected to take a photo. I’ll post one soon so you can play the guessing game with us.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

Carole and I had the best intentions. We were going to work up a sweat power-walking around the National Arboretum, admiring the early spring daffodils and hyacinths. We were thwarted outside the gardens by a sign that announced: closed while they move their offices.

It was cloudy and cold, so we scrapped our hiking plans and headed over to Washington’s famous Eastern Market. After warming up with some coffee, we wandered through all the booths. Outside, we admired the pillow covers made from remnants of old Turkish rugs. Inside the renovated market, we ogled the fresh-rendered meat and fish.

Then we cruised the vegetable vendors and stopped in our tracks in front of a table of beets. $3.50 for a bunch. This was not your average “bunch.” It was 7-8 big beets per bunch, a real bargain. We asked the vendor where the beets came from. “Soutxrhymp” he said. “Southern California?” I asked. Almost indignant, he said, “No ma’am. South Carolina. We get our first vegetables of the season from South Carolina and then gradually move north with the local crops.”

Carole and I each bought a bunch, and went home to make borscht, a wonderful treat on a cold late March day. I never make the same recipe twice, but it’s a favorite of Sam’s, so I do make it several times a year. Here’s a base recipe sans cabbage. What’s yours?

Adaptable Borscht

4-5 medium beets or 3 large

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

15 oz tomatoes, pureed

2-3 cups beef or chicken stock

1 T vinegar

Leftover shreds of beef or pork (or skip it, which I often do)

Fresh or dried dill, salt, pepper

Boil the beets until tender and peel when cool. Meanwhile, slowly sauté the onion until translucent over medium-low heat in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two.

In a food processor or blender, roughly grind the beets in 1 cup of stock to the consistency you like. We like a few chunks of beets to remind us where the borscht came from; some people like it pureed smooth. This may require two batches. Add the beets to the sauce pot with the onions. Puree the tomatoes a bit, and add them to the pot too. Then add the remaining stock, vinegar, meat (if desired), and enough stock to loosen to your desired consistency. Add dried dill, salt, pepper to taste. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Serve hot or cold with a dollop of plain yogurt. Or not.

This will hold us until our own beet crop comes in next summer. Which seems like a long way off when it’s 35 degrees.

We wandered through the crowded Del Ray farmer’s market, ogling the fresh produce making its way from farm to market. CRR paused at the beets. I suggested we wait. Just in case. We purchased a few vegetables, then headed over to our own garden.

Sure enough, a week of rain and warm temperatures had given our garden a growth spurt that yielded the first beets. Taunus, a cylindrical hybrid that grows 6 to 7 inches long, has become our go-to red beet. It is fast-growing (65 days) and sturdy enough to stand up to Washington’s withering heat, so we typically do several plantings as garden space allows. We ripped out the remnants of the lettuce crop and planted more beet seed—gold and red.

Then we triumphantly harvested the first half-dozen beets of the season.


I cut off the beet greens, which CRR likes to sauté with a dash of vinegar. I prefer the beetroot, which over the summer we will fashion into myriad dishes: slow roasted in the oven…sliced and layered with goat cheese and herbs … borscht, hot or cold…grated with carrots into a jewel-like slaw created by our friends Ruth and Tim. I never tire of beets, so send me your favorite recipes.

But for the first beets, a simple preparation is best. I simmered them until tender, slipped off the skins, then sliced them into 1/4 –inch rounds and spritzed them with a little margarine. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Yum.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.