Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Golden Beets with Feta

Dinner at home + Lion King in 3D at the Kabuki = Best date night ever.

Roasted golden beets, drizzled with a dijon, sherry vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette, tossed with shallots and topped with fennel fronds. And couscous with castelvetrano olives, toasted almonds lemon zest and homemade harissa. All inspired by the CSA box.

It's been 6 months and 13 farm boxes, and I'm pretty happy with the CSA box.

Recently Mark Bittman had an interesting article on whether junk food is really cheaper than cooking at home. The economist in me says that this is a no brainer, especially if you factor in future health costs from eating junk food, but do those future health costs from eating junk food offset the opportunity cost of cooking? For example I choose to spend an hour (or two) cooking each night, rather than say, spending time on the couch with my bf watching a movie and ordering take out or going to the gym. What do you think?

I don't really eat junk food or fast food, but I have been asking myself a related question, are we spending less money on food since we signed up for the biweekly box from Farm Fresh to You?

We looked at our monthly grocery, restaurant and eating out lunch costs. Based on 1 year of data (basically since I settled into my new place in SF), it looks like our monthly average food expenditures are lower since we signed up for the box. Overall we are spending less money on groceries and we are eating dinner out less and thus our total restaurant expenses are lower. I am also spending less money on lunch since the box because I generally bring my lunch instead of eating out lunch.  Full disclosure: I did not control for days that I worked late and ate dinner at the office on the company's dime, which disproportionately fall in the 6 month period before the box.

Overall the box has been a huge success for us. We mostly finish everything in the box (sometimes the lettuce goes bad before we can finish it). I try to use the most perishable produce first, like lettuce and other greens and broccoli. And we eat out a whole lot less now because there is so much produce to go through at home. The box comes out to $22 a week and it is delivered to home, which helps tremendously given the unpredictability of my work hours. Plus everything in the box is organic.

As much as possible, I rely on the contents of the box for inspiration and only buy limited supplemental produce, like lemons, shallots or really good mushrooms. It really forces me to cook with ingredients that I normally wouldn't buy and try new recipes. I find myself being more creative and have been making at least one completely new dish every week since I started the box.

Some of you have asked how I find time to cook during the week and how expensive it is to buy all of these ingredients.

One thing that helps make cooking during the week easier is that while making tonight's dinner, I'll roast vegetables in the oven, like beets, for tomorrow night's dinner.  Or I will chop up extra shallots or radishes for tomorrow's salad. When I make a vinaigrette, I'll make extra and keep it in a jar in the fridge for the week. Generally on the weekend, I make a batch of plain quinoa or farro and use it in my lunch or in a side dish for dinner. You could even store the cooked grains in small containers in the freezer.

I strongly believe that using high quality ingredients really transforms a dish. Because I am a vegetarian, I don't spend money buying meat or seafood, so I can afford to spend a little more on things like good parmesan, gruyere and french feta, high quality extra virgin olive oil for dressings and drizzling (I use an inexpensive olive oil for cooking) and good bread. And shallots. Shallots are amazing. Yes, I do have several different vinegars and oils but honestly once you buy a good bottle of balsamic you will use a small amount time and again in various dishes.

Other staples I like to keep on hand (beyond the basic flour, eggs, pasta, etc) include grains like quinoa, farro and couscous, beans like cannellini, chick peas and black beans, nuts like walnuts and pine nuts, and a coarse flaky salt like Maldon.

I also believe that fresh herbs have the ability to make a good dish outstanding. Whenever a recipe called for a teaspoon of thyme or rosemary, I used to run to Whole Foods and buy a small packet of herbs only to waste the rest of the herbs. So I started growing basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano and mint in pots on the balcony. Next year I might grow sage and maybe even peppers.

So there you have it. Cooking healthy, delicious vegetarian meals at home does require time, but with a little investment and planning it is possible to fit in to your schedule, even as a working professional!

Golden beets with feta
1 bunch of golden beets
1 shallot, diced
1/2 tsp dijon
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup crumbled french feta
1 tbsp fennel fronds

Preheat oven to 425.  Cut away the greens, leaving 1/4 inch of stem. Don't discard the greens- they are delicious sauteed! Scrub beets well. Place beets in a baking dish with about 1 cup of water, or about 1/4 inch of water. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place in oven and roast for about 1 hour, until tender. Small beets need 30 to 40 minutes, medium beets need about 45 minutes and large beets can take 1 hour to 1.5 hours. Remove beets from oven and carefully remove foil. The beets are ready when easily pierced with the tip of a knife.

Roasted beets will keep well in the refrigerator for up to a week, best left unpeeled until ready to use.

When beets are cool enough to handle, cut away ends and slip off the skins. Slice beets in half and then each half into quarters, so you have 8 wedges from each beet.

In a small bowl, combine dijon and sherry vinegar, whisking in olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper. Arrange beet wedges on a platter. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Sprinkle with crumbled feta and garnish with fennel fronds.


  1. I love this post! It is very inspiring and I hope to incorporate some of these tips into my cooking life :)

  2. Cheese + roasted beets = soooo delicious


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