Editors' Picks

Jamie Oliver's Smoked Beets

September 29, 2011

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

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- 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 beetssmoking beetsCoal-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 cheesezesting a lemoncottage 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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Caroline C. February 2, 2016
I also oven roasted my beets and used the herbs I had on hand. The cottage cheese dressing is, indeed inspired. Glad I found this recipe!
gingerroot April 25, 2013
For an Easter get together I finally had a chance to try these. Instead of using a grill, the host of the party dug a traditional Hawaiian cooking pit, or imu. I made the packets as written and was a little worried that they'd be mush when they opened up the imu (usually everything goes in in the morning or night before and you take it out at the end of the day) but in fact the beets were PERFECT. The meat, not so much, as it was not cooked all the way through, but that's another story. These were so good I am thinking of adding this to my menu for a teacher/staff party I'm hosting. I'm thinking I can probably get away with smoking them the day before and finishing the salad the day of. Thank you Kristen!
emadethis October 10, 2011
This sounds awesome. I'm intrigued by the cottage cheese...I too hate it a lot, but I trust Jamie Oliver tremendously too.

As for egg salad: Gourmet Dec 2008...it's got lemon zest, chopped fennel, and just a tiny bit of garlic. It's context is as a topping for latkes.
ecoteri October 7, 2011
Mr. Pablo made this - kinda. It was glorious when the beets were hottish and the dressing was homemade and delish. less of a fan at fridge or room temp, we have to be sure to put into the leftover pans in a way that we can re-heat the beets. but my - ooooooh - my it was delicious fresh out of the pans and dressing containers.... he smoked the beets using a smoker on the barbeque - put the wood chips into a aluminum packet and smoked the beets... then they were skinned, and mixed with dressing made with homemade pathetic ricotta. even pathetic, it was delish
LoisonMaui October 2, 2011
My husband made this salad yesterday. He roasted on coals per Jamie's recipe. We couldn't find fresh beets with their stems/leaves so we used banana plant leaves from our tree in the back yard. The cottage cheese drizzle is over the top delicious and the entire dish is truly perfect. Takes time but could be made in advance....worth the effort.
sheimoon October 2, 2011
in an issue of french elle i saw a beet (not smoked) salad with a cottage cheese dressing: cottage cheese, soy sauce, olive oil and a bit of hazelnut or walnut oil. beets served on a bed of red lettuces including treviso. really, really good.
sheimoon October 2, 2011
here's the recipe if anybody is interested:
TheWimpyVegetarian October 1, 2011
I just love this!! I don't have a charcoal grill per se, but hmmmm.... I DO have a smallish firepit on the patio. If I can put logs in it and roast marshmellows over it, I can't see why I can't roast a few beets in it....
Kristen M. October 2, 2011
That should work! It actually sounds a bit like what Jamie Oliver himself uses in the TV show (skip ahead to 4:25) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJprtYaQBhk
TheWimpyVegetarian October 2, 2011
Thanks kirsten!! I just finished watching it am going to give it a go! I actually watched the whole thing and loved every minute. Thanks for the link!
TheWimpyVegetarian October 2, 2011
Sorry, I meant kristen!!
witloof September 30, 2011
I think these would be even more beautiful with a handful of pistachio nuts on top.
Kristen M. October 2, 2011
Completely agree.
mrslarkin September 29, 2011
Can't wait to give this a go. Thanks, Kristen!
Bevi September 29, 2011
I love Jamie and his recipes. Thanks so much for featuring this.
aargersi September 29, 2011
We just got a mac-daddy offset barrel smoker ... I know what is going in the coals this weekend!!!
la D. September 29, 2011
I really loved the Jamie at Home series...how he cooked outside in the garden with simple techniques (and genius ideas like this one). It's chilly outside today and I can think of nothing better than smoky beets with that cottage cheese dressing.
dymnyno September 29, 2011
I have made these in my wood burning oven. It is important to use heavy duty foil. They are sooo delicious...but I am a certified beet lover...also love cottage cheese esp Cowgirl Creamery clabbered cottage cheese. It will make anyone a cottage cheese lover.
This L. September 29, 2011
Love beets, love Jamie Olivier!
EmilyC September 29, 2011
I love everything about this (including the fact it's from Jamie Oliver!), especially the cottage cheese dressing. Cottage cheese needs no redemption in my book!
Kristen M. September 29, 2011
You're either with cottage cheese or against it, until you meet a dressing like this. I'm excited to have crossed over.
thirschfeld September 29, 2011
This is the first recipe I made out of this book and I make it again and again and again. It is hands down a favorite in our household and it is great with the steak too.
Kristen M. September 29, 2011
Whoops, I forgot to mention that he serves his with steak! I thought this might be up your alley.
cateler September 29, 2011
I might just need to buy a charcoal grill just for these beets!!!
Kristen M. September 29, 2011
I like that dedication! To get at that dressing in the meantime, you can oven roast the beets like Amanda does: http://www.food52.com/recipes/5696_beets_and_herbs_salad