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Beet-fried rice and Gnarly Head Zinfandel

A jungle of locally grown produce.
A jungle of locally grown produce.
Photo taken by Robert Sipes

Beets are in season, and they are some of my favorite root vegetables. Get your local Farmers’ Market beets, if you can, and you might even find the yellow beets, which are a little milder. Yes, these beets are dirtier, they are a root vegetable, but spending a little time scrubbing these Farmers’ Market gems gives much flavor in return. Another great benefit in buying the whole plant: you get the leaves. Yes, many people just toss them (or, at least, compost them) but beet greens are delicious. Not as strong as turnip greens or collards, beet greens are closer to Swiss chard, but they make a great addition to my very own “beet-fried rice” served with roasted root vegetables.

Start with a bunch of beets, clean and peel, to then quarter and throw in some olive oil before roasting. For this preparation you can use any root vegetables, but I like the beets with fennel especially, so I’ll get a bulb or two and slice those up. If I have other parts of the meal to prepare (like the rice) I’ll toss the roots into a roasting pan and get them started at about 375º. Rinse the beet greens, which can be dirtier than the beets, and cut them up into one-inch pieces. If you have cooked rice from another meal, use that, or get Uncle Ben’s Boil-in-Bag brown rice (a favorite) and boil that up. I like the mixed wild and brown rice options too, and will use those, though they take longer to cook. Once you have cooked rice, toss in a frying pan with two tablespoons of olive oil and two tablespoons of butter. I’ll sauté up some scallions and mushrooms, if I have them. You want to give a nice wilt to the greens before adding the rice. This brings out the flavor of the greens. Yes, you get pink rice, but it’s a small price to pay for using all of your Farmers’ Market beets. Next, add a few good swishes of seasoned rice wine vinegar to bring some acid to balance the bite of the greens plus a hint of sweetness (though regular rice wine vinegar works well too).

While the rice is cooking I finish the oven roast prep and maybe cut up some carrots or potatoes to add to the fennel and beets. You can stop there or add a protein like a few seasoned chicken thighs or quarter chicken pieces, or a slab of seitan, or planks of tempeh. This can be an easy, vegetarian meal with loads of flavor. I cover with tin foil (if there is no lid) to make everything cook faster. Yes, the rice is often done first, but it keeps well enough on low under a lid. Up the oven temperature to 400º to get that chicken done (using a meat thermometer to be sure it’s cooked). If you like softer root vegetables than you will have to cook even longer, which is why I get the hardest roots in first to start roasting while I prepare the beet-fried rice.

I paired this dinner with good old Gnarly Head Zinfandel, for about $10 per bottle. I wanted a soft red, with lower tannins, yet the beets needed something with a bolder flavor than a light Pinot Noir. The Gnarly Head is not a heavy Zin, blackberry compote with just a hint of spice, but there is enough spice, maybe even a hint of licorice, to give it that classic Zin character. I might also pair this meal with the Gnarly Head Authentic Red, a slightly softer red blend in that low acid, high fruit style that everybody loves (i.e. Mènage a Trois, Apothic, Cupcake Red Velvet and Playtime). Both have softer tannins and riper fruit flavors, which play off the bitterness of the greens but then resonate to the fennel’s anise characters, another hint of sweetness. Let’s work with the sweet aspects of this dish without getting candied, and that’s where the salt and vinegar and the hint of bitter in the greens comes in.

I’d even pair this vegetable roast and beet-fried rice with the Gnarly Head Chardonnay, if you need a white wine option. The Chard is ripe and juicy with just a hint of butter and oak, enough to give structure but not too much. A really oaky Chardonnay might clash with the beets’ flavor, therefore a softer, fruit-forward Chardonnay is a great choice for pairing. Gnarly Head is a producer you can find in most supermarkets. I know it’s under $10 per bottle at your local ABC Fine Wine and Spirits. So try these wines with your own Farmers’ Market beet-fried rice. Remember we have many weekly Gainesville Farmers’ Markets and the Citizen’s Co-Op as another fresh, locavore source for farm fresh veggies. Enjoy!