Indian recipes sound an old familiar beet

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What was the most unexpected ingredient I encountered on my recent trip to India? Beets, that Ashkenazi staple.

Turns out the beet’s precursor grew along the Indian coastline. I’m not sure when modern beets were first planted in India, but they are now widely grown. When I got home I discovered beets are a beloved ingredient in many Indian recipes. In India, I had them in a creamy tomato-beet soup and as an accompaniment to main dishes in yogurt-based salads.

Below is a recipe for a thick roasted tomato-beet soup that can be eaten hot or cold. My Beet-Pineapple Salad is in vinaigrette instead of yogurt and was influenced by a pineapple and vegetable salad I had in Kochi. The menu described the vinaigrette as being “in the Jewish style.” I was never able to find out what made it “Jewish style,” though, so I opted for featuring spices from the region.

Roasted Tomato and Beet Soup

Serves 4-6

  • 4 beets (see note below), 12 oz.
  • 2 Tbs. oil and additional oil or spray
  • 28 oz. can whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced into 1⁄4 rings
  • 5 medium to large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground smoked paprika
  • about 4 cups vegetable broth
  • salt to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked red lentils (optional)
  • plain yogurt or lemon wedges
  • chopped dill

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Leave “tails” on beets and cut off stalk about 1 inch from top of beet. Wrap beets well in several layers of aluminum foil and seal by crimping shut. Bake about 75 minutes until fork tender. Prepare one baking tray for the tomatoes and one for the onions and garlic. Spray or grease each tray with the oil. Drain tomatoes, reserving liquid. Place tomatoes in single layer on one tray. Spray or brush oil on top, place in oven, baking for about 35-40 minutes, turning occasionally until browned. Spread onion rings and garlic on other tray, brush or spray with oil and bake until browned (about 20 minutes), turning occasionally.

Let beets cool slightly. Wearing plastic gloves, slice off “tails” and remaining stems. Rub to remove peels. Cut into eighths. Roughly chop onion and garlic.

Heat 2 Tbs. oil in large, heavy pot. Add onion, garlic, beets and tomatoes. Sauté for a few minutes, add cumin and smoked paprika. Sauté for 1 minute. Measure reserved tomato juice from can and add stock to get 5 cups, add to pot, simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. Let cool and purée with immersion blender or in batches in a blender. Return to pot, mix in cooked red lentils if using. Reheat if desired. Serve with either yogurt or lemon, and garnish with chopped dill.

Note: The beets I used were about 2 to 21⁄2 inches in diameter, and after trimming weighed 12 oz. total. Depending on size, the quantity and roasting times may vary.

Beet-Pineapple Salad

Serves 4

  • 3 beets (see soup recipe note), 9 oz.
  • 2 cups fresh pineapple, cut into 1⁄2-inch chunks
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 3 Tbs. sherry vinegar
  • 6 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh mint leaves

Roast and peel beets as described in soup recipe. Cut into 1⁄2-inch chunks. Chill beets and pineapple separately. Mix ginger, cardamom, salt, pepper, sugar, vinegar, oil and water for dressing.

To serve, combine chilled beets and pineapple with mint. Stir dressing and pour over salad. Mix.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is faithkramer.com. Contact her at [email protected].