I long had a hate-hate relationship with beets; as far as I was concerned, they didn't have a single redeeming quality. Beets of any variety tasted like an ill-begotten cross of the sickly sweetness of cotton candy with a refreshing mouthful of mud. Surely, I was not alone in this. Does anyone look forward to the first beet of the season with the same rapture that they might the first strawberries of spring? A search on beets in poetry offered me the option "beats in poetry," and no verse more positive that this children's poem, which compares beets to witches' toenails. I don't like hating foods; my long aversion to sage--except in stuffing--has long since turned to addiction. So it would be with beets. Last winter, at the Tompkins Square farmers' market, I was offered a sample of apple-and beet-salad. I waved away the tiny cup, saying "I hate beets!" and instantly felt about six years old. I took the cup. It was pretty damn good. Not nectarine good, but good. I still haven't reconciled myself to borscht, which looks far too much like a bowl of Pepto-Bismol, but I'm exploring beet salads , included the neo-classic beet and goat cheese , which can be led in all sorts of directions.
Started with slicing beets (a pound or so), which look exactly as you might think; that is, long and slender and perfect for salads. Other varieties will do, but these are more fun. Wrap them in a double layer of foil, toss them on a baking sheet, into the oven for about at hour at 450 degrees, until tender enough to pierce with a fork. While beets are cooling, make a vinaigrette (a bit on the sharp side to cut the sweetness of the beets, using shallots instead of garlic, if possible. Chop up some feathery cilantro; I believe the variety is Del Fino, but that could just as easily be a girl I went to high school with who became a gym teacher. If you don't like cilantro, use parsley. Drop a handful of pecan halves into a hot pan, shake until fragrant, which shouldn't be long. Cool, break into smaller pieces. Peel, then slice or chunk a couple of small cucumbers. I like the small, prickly Persian variety that's available at most farmer's markets. Crumble some fresh chevre. If you're serving the salad as a first course, go light on the cheese. For a main-course serving, perhaps a half pound or so. When the beets are relatively cool, remove the peel, which should pretty much just fall off. Toss the beets with the vinaigrette, then with the remaining ingredients. Wash all that red off your hands. Serve. Two main course servings, with leftovers for the next day's lunch.