"Carrots and beets give you red cheeks." This is something my mother used to say (to which my sister and I invariably replied with such bon mots as "And carrots and peas give you red knees!"), and it definitely has the ring of the food rhetoric on which she was raised. Root vegetables have been a staple of the British diet for...well, pretty much forever, for the simple reason that they grow easily there. If you're in England and looking/constrained to eat locally, and are in the market for figs, olives, and oranges, you'd better just keep moving. But if you've a hankering for roots and tubers pull up a chair: you've come to the right place!
For centuries, the proverbial "mess" of pottage provided the primary source of nourishment for many Britons, and the advent of war and rationing made this almost as true for the 1940s as it had been for the 1340s, 1440s, and 1540s. Of course, back then England hadn't yet begun its long-running love affair with the potato, but medieval and early modern recipes are filled with preparations for turnips, onions, garlic, and other things that grow below the damp, chilly ground and keep well through a damp, chilly winter.
As I've already noted, much of the Food Ministry's propaganda positioned potatoes and carrots - and trust me, you'll be seeing plenty of both in the coming weeks - as central to staying healthy on a strictly rationed diet. Which is why today's offering may seem refreshingly colo(u)rful, light, and modern compared with the overall podginess of my first two posts; but the fact is that beets and kale were two domestically grown products that made frequent appearances on wartime tables.
That being the case, I present to you a frugal, nourishing dish of vegetables that will serve as the perfect complement to a main dish comprised of their starchier brethren. (NB that I'm not naming names, but the post-modern vegan cook may well find then urge to add some nooch to the kale irresistible; if so, rest assured that your anachronistic secret will go no further!)
Roasted Beets with Kale
~ 4 large beets
~ 1 tbsp. oil
~ 1 small red onion, minced
~ 2 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 large head kale, stripped, washed, and roughly chopped
~ 2 tbsp. vinegar
~ 1 tsp. Coleman's mustard
~ 1/2 tsp. each: dried rosemary, sage, marjoram
~ Salt and pepper
~ Preheat the oven to 375,° and lightly grease a baking sheet (or coat with cooking spray).
~ Wash the beets and cut them in half (you might want to quarter particularly large ones) Place them cut side down on the baking sheet, and roast for 45-60 minutes or until the skins start to blister.
~ Remove the pan from the oven and set aside cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the cooked beets (it should slip off easily) and chop into cubes.
~ In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil and sauté the garlic and onion over medium high heat for about two minutes, then begin adding the chopped kale by handfuls, stirring with each addition until it is wilted but still bright green. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
~ In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, dried herbs, a little bit of water, and another grind of salt and pepper (salt wasn't rationed, so you can go crazy - blood pressure be damned!).
~ Place the kale in a large bowl, top with the roasted beets, and toss with the dressing.