The Apple Crisp That Made Me Fall in Love With...Beets

Adding beets to an apple crisp may seem strange, but their earthy flavor pairs perfectly with the tart sweetness of the fruit.

November 11, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

I didn’t always love beets. In fact, I used to loathe them. But it wasn't my fault. My first introduction to the root vegetable was via my father, the culprit for my aversion. He would boil them in unsalted tap water until tender and pawn off the red liquid as "borscht" for dinner. The soup (a generous term for his creation) tasted like dirt—so for the entire duration of my childhood, I was conned into thinking that beets tasted dirty, bitter, and metallic. And to make matters worse, my only other encounter with them was with a sałatki z burakami that was swimming in harsh white vinegar: a not-so-great rendition of a simple beet salad.

It wasn’t until I experienced beets in a dessert that I truly understood why my father loved them so much.

The dish that changed it all was a beet ice cream I had at a fancy restaurant on my 16th birthday. Instead of tasting like dirt, the beets presented themselves as the candy equivalent of a vegetable. They were gentle, sweet, and complex—not at all like the unappetizing beet water I was accustomed to. Just as dark chocolate has the ability to balance out desserts with its earthy bitterness, the beets did just the same to the ice cream. They rounded it out, adding a depth of complex flavor and bright red color that completely transformed the humble ice cream into something special. I would have never thought to add beets to an ice cream, but it worked. It was a revelation that made me question why I ever hated beets in the first place.

Beets are now one of my go-to ingredients to use in desserts. I’ve made cakes, ice creams, and cookies with them—utilizing both their striking color and distinct flavor to add excitement to my recipes. My absolute favorite dessert to add them to is apple crisp because, as it turns out, beets and apples are a perfect match. The earthiness of the beets tames the tart bite of the apples, and the sweetness of the fruit highlights the root vegetable's natural sugars. The juices from the two thicken into the most stunning red sauce that bubbles up the sides of the crisp as it bakes like crimson lava.

A dollop of vanilla goat cheese made with yogurt complements the beets and finishes the crisp with a cool, tangy bite that brings it all together. It’s an unexpected recipe I’ve made several times, and has the ability to convert even the most die-hard beet haters into newly enlightened lovers.

I now understand my father’s love of beets. I love a crunchy sałatki z burakami, hearty (properly made) borscht, chilled chlodnik litewski, and all of the other classics my father grew up with. I’ll happily eat them in everything from stews to cakes, and I simply can’t get enough of them. All it took was experiencing them in a newer, sweeter context to change my mind. Maybe it’s because I am my father’s son, so a love of beets is in my DNA and an epiphany was bound to happen. Or maybe it’s because beets are actually just really, really good—when used right.

Either way, I blame my father’s “borscht” recipe for my rocky introduction, and present to you this crisp so you don't have to go through what I went through.

Have you ever baked with beets? Let us know in the comments below.

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1 Comment

bellw67 November 17, 2019
I love beets although I'm not sure about the dessert part. My Dad used to pressure cook, then freeze them and when thawed they were like eating soft rubber. I reintroduced myself to beets, years later with pickled beets. Then, roasted and Harvard Beets, my fave. I can clean up a whole bowl of cold beets myself, eaten straight from the fridge, in 2 days. Maybe I'll try the dessert.