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Kalonji Braised Beets with Toasted Coconut


2 pounds unpeeled beets, scrubbed clean

¾ cup rice wine vinegar

1¾ cups water

1½ tablespoons whole coriander seed, lightly crushed

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, lightly crushed

1½ tablespoons kalonji (also known as Nigella Sativa)

2 teaspoons salt, plus additional to taste

1 cup grated fresh coconut
(quality frozen shredded coconut can be substituted, but do not use dehydrated or sweetened coconut)

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil, separated

½ cup thin poha flattened rice

1 tablespoon coconut oil

2 tablespoons minced ginger

1 small cayenne or ½ serrano pepper, minced

1 tablespoon freshly ground coriander seed

Chef Tip: To lightly crush spice seeds, a mortar and pestle works well, but the bottom of a heavy pot will also do the job.


Chef note: Early March is a time full of anticipation in North Carolina. We have had our fill of collards and sweet potatoes, and though we’ve had beets recently, their tops suddenly start to become vibrant and lush. If the weather cooperates, we may even see some perfect baby beets of different varieties popping up. This dish segues from winter to spring.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place first 7 ingredients (beets through salt) in oven-safe pan, making sure liquid comes halfway up beets. Cover with foil and cook until beets are fork-tender (but not mushy), about 40 minutes. Peel while still warm and reserve liquid.
  3. While beets are roasting, spread coconut onto sheet pan and toast in oven until golden and no longer watery, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to ensure even toasting. When done, remove from oven and set aside.
  4. Heat 1 cup canola oil in small skillet until hot but not smoking. Quickly add poha and fry for 1-2 minutes, until crispy. Remove with spider skimmer and salt immediately. Mix in toasted coconut and set aside.
  5. Cut beets into ¼-inch thick half-moons. Heat coconut oil and reserved canola oil in skillet and quickly add minced ginger, hot pepper, and ground coriander. Sauté just until fragrant, no more than 30 seconds, and deglaze with splash of reserved beet liquid. Add beets, tossing until well-coated, until liquid is reduced. Season to taste and serve topped with coconut-poha mixture.

Serving suggestion

For an extra flourish, toss a bunch of baby arugula or pea shoots with a handful of julienned mint leaves, a bit of extra-virgin olive oil, and flaky sea salt to serve alongside the beets. Beets braised this way can be used many ways—even without the coconut topping. Use your imagination. [/box]
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