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Jamie Oliver's Smoked Beets

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Every week, Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Grilled beets for the multi-tasker -- and (optional) redemption for cottage cheese.

Smoked Beets

- Kristen

These may look like the roasted beets you know, but they aren't. These beets were buried in hot coals and lived to tell the tale. Singed rosemary and smoke lurk inside, and we can thank Jamie Oliver for that.

This delightful recipe comes from his 2008 cookbook Jamie at Home and the TV series that accompanied it, which had him sourcing clever, simple recipes out of his own garden in Essex.

Jamie Oliver  beets

The genius of this recipe is twofold:

1) The coal-roasting technique, which renders the beets subtly smoky -- not dingy casino smoky.

2) A life-changing cottage cheese dressing. More on that later.

First up, the technique: I've learned there's more than one way to grill a beet. You could slice them thick and lay them straight on the grill for handsome char marks (like this) but you risk them slipping through the grate, unless you have one of those grill basket thingies.

And there's always the matter of your whole meal competing for surface area on the grill, especially when you're cooking to feed a lot of people. As you're carefully flipping your beet slices (and growling every time you lose one to the ashes), the dang steaks are getting cold! Oliver's method allows you to multi-task -- and multi-story -- your grill, instead of cooking in shifts. The beets cook in the basement.

Charcoal chimney  Jamie at Home

Here's how: You bundle up your beets in protective layers of beet greens, rosemary and foil, just like they're going into a campfire. You stab the foil all over to make vents for the delicious smoke. Then you nestle your foil packet under the coals for half an hour or so while you get ready to grill whatever else up top -- fish, steak, garlic bread, even salad. (See the whole process illustrated in the slideshow below.)

How will you know the beets are done? Just poke them (through the foil, between the coals) with a paring knife. If they're soft to their middles and magenta beet blood seeps out on the withdrawl, they're done. Time to excavate.

smoked beets  smoking beets  Coal-roasting

After they cool, you'll slip off their skins and your hands will turn pink. (If the skins put up any resistance, gently scrape them away with the back of a paring knife.)

At this point, you can quit and eat the beets however you like. Keep them in the fridge and slice them up for salads or burgers all week long. But I recommend you proceed to genius element number 2: the life-altering cottage cheese dressing.

I've never been a fan of cottage cheese. How unfair that it's historically been presented by the binful at salad bars, or as a wan plop on the side of a badly garnished diner platter. Plus, isn't it diet food?

But if anyone can make such a thing sexy, it's Jamie Oliver. Whoops, there went that food prejudice. (Anyone want to work on my mental block about egg salad?)

cottage cheese  zesting a lemon  cottage cheese dressing

To doll up this so-called diet food, Oliver swirls it with lemon juice and zest and generous glugs of olive oil, for a dressing that's beautifully broken and lumpy, mottled white and gold. You'd never think that elegant lemon and olive oil would benefit from squeaky cheese, but they do.

Sure -- in a typical stroke of exuberance -- Oliver uses four different herbs in this recipe (rosemary, parsley, tarragon, thyme), but you don't really have to. Feel free to streamline, mix and match. But it's sure good his way, if you've got the herbs (and the cottage cheese, which now holds a soft, squeaky place in my heart).

Jamie Oliver's Smoked Beets

Jamie Oliver's Smoked Beets (with Lemon-Thyme Cottage Cheese Dressing)

From Jamie at Home (Hyperion, 2008)

Serves 4 as a side.

  • For the beets:
  • 8 small beets, with greens if possible
    1 small bunch of fresh rosemary

    For the salad:
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
    Extra virgin olive oil
    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped
    1 small bunch fresh tarragon or basil, leaves picked and roughly chopped

    4 heaped tablespoons cottage cheese
    1 lemon, juice and zest
    A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

To see Jamie Oliver making this salad while kneeling in his garden in Essex, go here and skip to 4:25. It appears the episode will also be broadcast in full on the Cooking Channel this October 13th at 6pm.

Want more genius? Try last week's recipe: Nancy Silverton's Whipped Cream.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom

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