As is often the case when we try to feed more than ourselves, we end up making versions of a meal to meet the preferences of our families. Having gone through several strict diets, I try to accommodate others as I forced many wonderful cooks to do when I wasn’t eating meat, or dairy, or grain, or sugar, or soft textures, or whatever other imbalanced trick I imposed on myself. Allergies are something else all together, but really, I do try to understand that we all prefer different things, prepared different ways, for different reasons. A good cook can do her best to adapt.
Beets are a good example of this. I adore beets. But because the sad, canned version has such a poor reputation, many people write off beets entirely without trying fresh ones. I can hardly remember living with anyone ever who relishes beets with abandon the way I do, which means they are almost always part of a meal I make just for myself. Beets are best roasted and eaten at room temperature, I think. When prepared well, beets rival some of the best earthy, sweet, textural, savory pleasures.
I start by detaching the greens, leaving the head of the beet on and slicing through the stems only. I give them a good rinse, put them in a baking pan, add a bit of water, a drizzle of olive oil, and cover them tightly with foil. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes. A knife should easily slip into the beet when it’s done. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Use a towel to rub off the skin and slice off the head and tail of each beet. Slice and set in a bowl. Drizzle with red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Let sit for a bit in the vinegar before doing anything with them.
I roasted two beets like this last night, so when I came home tonight hungry, I looked forward to what I’d do with them. But, I also planned on feeding other family. And Aurelia, though offered many times, has yet to take after beets as well. So, I came up with two simple, overlapping meals that satisfied the different tastes. Win win.
In a pot over medium high heat, I made polenta by whisking 3 cups of cornmeal into 9 cups of boiling, salted water. I kept stirring the mixture until it thickened, about 10 minutes, removed it from heat and stirred in 4 tablespoons butter.
The polenta served as a base to my dinner with garlicy sauteed beet greens, the roasted beets, and feta cheese. I was the only one that ate it and I didn’t mind not sharing a bit. It was scrumptious.
About half of the recipe went into the base of the next dish for the non-beet eaters:
adapted from Martha Stewart
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 4 oz can diced green chilies
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Coarse salt and ground pepper
3 cups diced tomatoes
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
For polenta crust:
1 1/2 cup cornmeal
4 1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter 8″x8″ square pan or 9″ pie plate.
To make the filling, heat 1 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and brown. Transfer to a bowl.
Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet. Cook onion, green chilies, and cumin, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes; season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Return beef to pan; stir in tomatoes, cilantro, and corn until combined.
To make the polenta crust, follow the instructions above, whisking the cornmeal into boiling water until thick. Stir butter in to the cooked polenta. Pour the polenta into the bottom of the prepared pan and cool for a few minutes. Top with beef filling and sprinkle with cheese.
Bake until filling is bubbling and cheese is melted, about 30 minutes. Serve with salsa and lime wedges.
I put the remaining polenta in a lightly buttered 8″x8″ pan with a parchment sling, covered it in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge. Tomorrow, I’ll slice it up and grill the pieces for another dinner. Yea for pulling three different meals out of something so basic.
I hope this helps show how you can eat together without going through the stress of completely different meals when people want alternative to the meal plan. Be flexible, eat your vegetables, and relax!