It goes without saying that beets are a gorgeous color. Baking them in individual foil packets develops a flavor intensity to match their brilliant hue and makes it easy to slip off their sklns-an ingenious technique discovered by produce specialist Elizabeth Schneider.
Since diced red beets bleed like crazy, they dye the rice a striking hot pink. To avold getting beet stains under your fingernails, wear rubber gloves when handling them. The light dressing of olive oil and lemon juice calls for just a hint of raspberry vinegar to enhance the beets’ natural sweetness.
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Trim off any beet greens, leaving about a half-inch of stem intact. Rinse the beets. Wrap each beet individually in a tightly sealed aluminum foil packet, set the beets on a foil lined baking pan and bake until you can easily pierce them to the center with a cake tester or paring knife, 60 to 90 minutes. (You can pierce the beets right through the foil.)
2. When they are cool enough to handle, gently rub the foil of each still-sealed packet against the skin of each beet. Slip off the beet skins along with the foil. Trim off the tail and stem ends. Cut the beets into ¼-inch pieces and set them in a bowl or storage container. Add the rice and toss until the rice is “dyed” beet red.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt. Toss the dressing with the beets. Adjust the seasonings, adding more vinegar and/or salt, if needed, to intensify the flavors. Let the salad sit until the grains absorb some flavor, about 15 minutes. Stir in the scallion greens (if using) just before serving. Garnish with pine nuts. Serve at room temperature.
Use your most delicate extra-virgin olive oil, one that will not distract from the beet flavor. (My favorite is the Ligurian Rol available by mail from Zingerman’s.) Opt for short-grain brown rice, which has a chewier and more interesting texture than the long-grain variety.
You can turn this side salad into a light lunch entree by serving it on a bed of Boston (butter) lettuce, with a few slices of avocado on the side.
Cook grains just a tad short of tender, since they will steam for a few more minutes after you drain them. Keep in mind that some whole grains, such as short-grain brown rice, kamut, and wheat berries, remain chewy even when thoroughly cooked.