One of the best things about casting a wide net for recipes is that, bit by bit, I build my knowledge. Take beets: I had always cooked them (wrapping, roasting, cooling and peeling) until one day, years ago, I came across a Moroccan treatment that had me shredding them raw for a salad. Another day, a smart cookbook author taught me to forgo the peeling altogether when I was using the baby variety and to not worry about the relatively thin skin. And yet another, a chef showed me how even a larger beet, when roasted at high heat, doesn’t necessarily need peeling, either — and that it could be presented whole, draped in a mole sauce.
Those were all welcome diversions from the same-old roasting, which — let’s face it — is often really more like baking or steaming when those beets are wrapped. Frankly, the technique doesn’t always bring out their best qualities. They seem to take forever to cook through, but leave them in the oven a touch too long, and they can turn soft enough to lose their appeal — although at that point, I usually puree them into a spread or soup.
Another summer, another lesson: This year, I’m grilling beets. I’m scrubbing but not peeling them, and then I’m cutting them into thick slices for a quick trip to the grill, where the kiss of smoke and flame chars and ever-so-slightly tenderizes them, leaving them supremely satisfying to eat. My favorite recipe for this treatment comes from “Summer Food,” a new book by Paul Lowe, Nina Dreyer Hensley and Jim Hensley.
Lowe, the Norwegian-born founder of Sweet Paul magazine, and his photographer partners bring a positively sun-kissed look, feel and — now that I’ve cooked from it — taste to the book. (Flip through it, and you’ll see what I mean; if you can resist planning a cookout, you’re stronger than I am, although perhaps not as much fun.) Lowe & Co. don’t call for leaving the beets unpeeled, but my previous experience told me to try it, and I’m glad I did: The peel picked up even more char than the beets’ interior, and leaving it on gives the dish — beets combined with grilled halloumi cheese and a sharp mustard sauce — a particularly rustic feel.
The authors call for fresh dill sprigs for garnish, but since I was pulling the beets straight from my front-yard garden, I had a better idea: the smallest beet greens I could find. They brought everything together, once again.
Grilled Baby Beets With Mustard Sauce
MAKE AHEAD: The grilled beets and the mustard sauce can be refrigerated, separately, for up to 1 week; bring them to room temperature before serving. The cheese is best grilled right before you assemble the salad, but it can be grilled, refrigerated for a day or two and then gently warmed in the microwave or in a hot skillet just to soften before serving.
Adapted from “Summer Food” by Paul Lowe, Nina Dreyer Hensley and Jim Hensley (Weldon Owen, 2014).
16 baby golden and/or red beets, preferably no bigger than golf ball size (1 1/2 pounds total); reserve a handful of small beet greens for garnish
8 ounces halloumi cheese, cut into 4 thick slabs
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
Scrub the beets well, but don’t peel them. Cut them in half lengthwise. (If using beets larger than golf ball size, cut them into 1/2-inch lengthwise slices.) Brush the beets and halloumi slices with a little of the oil.
Prepare the grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (400 to 450 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal; when the coals are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 4 or 5 seconds. Have a spray water bottle at hand for taming any flames.
Arrange the halloumi slices on the grill; cook, uncovered, for about 1 minute per side or until charred in spots. Transfer to a serving platter.
Arrange the beets on the grill; cook, uncovered, for 3 to 4 minutes per side, turning them carefully with tongs or a spatula, until charred in spots and barely tender when pierced with a skewer. Transfer the beets to the platter with the cheese.
Top with the onion slices and garnish with the small beet greens.
Whisk together the 1/4 cup oil, the mustard, thyme, lemon juice and salt in a liquid measuring cup to form an emulsified dressing. Taste, and add salt as needed. Dollop over the beet salad and serve.
Nutrition per serving: 380 calories, 15 g protein, 19 g carbohydrates, 30 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 1,040 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar