Back on the beets … and other vegetables

Grilled pork chops, grilled beets (top) and grilled zucchini.
(This food got all up in my grill!)

Somewhere along the way I started making dinner at home again.

Mostly because I realized I wasn’t eating enough fruits and vegetables, which inspired another trek to WinCo. (Well, really it started with needing more rhubarb to infuse gin with, and snowballed from there.) So last week I came home with bags full of produce — spinach! cauliflower! sugar snap peas! — plums! — and challenged myself to mow through all of them by taking some (apples, plums, mango) to work as snacks, and incorporating the others (spinach, zucchini, tomatoes) at dinner.

I did pretty well; some broccoli and sweet potatoes fell victim to last-in-the-lineup spoilage, but I was impressed by the sheer bulk of fruits, vegetables and legumes I did put away. Making turkey tacos?* Toss in a can of low-sodium black beans, rinsed, and add half a bag of spinach to the pan: vitamins, fiber, protein that are secretly along for the ride.

* Um, did anyone already know that Taco Bell makes packets of taco seasoning mix? I was delighted to discover this while trolling the aisles.

This weekend’s trip yielded an even bigger pile of produce, although with Mr. Brooks in the house full-time for at least a month, I’ll be splitting that bounty. (And the cost, so it all evens out.)

I’ve had roasted beets at restaurants and loved ’em, but turning on an oven is Just Not Going to Happen Right Now. So I decided to try the next-best option and grill them alongside some zucchini.

I was worried about cutting up raw beets, having read about how stain-y they were. Peeling and slicing them seemed like a recipe for sartorial disaster. And indeed, in the background of the photo above you can see the aftermath of the first peeling (which took longer than expected as I try to acclimate to using a Y peeler). But the color rinses off your hands easily, so it’s not as awful as it could be; I had imagined a resultant spatter the likes of which are usually only seen at grisly murder scenes, so I was pleasantly surprised.

So, on to the grilling:  It turns out that each of the items that I had planned for dinner could be grilled for about the same amount of time, with slightly different preparations. It just took some planning and prep at the beginning, and then everything came together in 15 minutes.

Grilling beets: Wash and peel the beets. (And look how intensely fuchsia the peeled beets are, raw!) Thanks to reading An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, I decided to hold on to the leafy beet greens and cook them separately later in the week. Slice them ¼- to ½-inch thick, and pour some olive oil to coat. (I sprinkled with kosher salt for flavor.)  Then grill over medium to medium-high heat, 6–8 minutes per side. My slices were a little thinner, which I would not recommend (file under: borderline beet chips) and I made the mistake of halving the beets before slicing. This last step didn’t render them inedible by any means, but it did make it way harder to flip them over halfway through without losing them through the grate. If you had a grill pan, that might be a delightful option.

Grilling zucchini squash: Halve the zucchini lengthwise, then slice ¼- to ½-inch thick. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper — a little garlic powder might be nice but the closest equivalent we had in the cupboard was onion salt, which, yuck (and since everything else was getting just salt and pepper, why mess with a good thing?) — then place in a sheet of foil with the edges folded up to make a packet. I covered that with another sheet of foil and crimped them closed; motivation explained momentarily. Grill over medium to medium-high heat, 6–8 minutes each side. I didn’t care about grill marks in my final product, so instead of painstakingly trying to turn the wedges over in any semblance of grillitude ADD, I just picked up the foil packet — with tongs, duh! — and flipped it onto its other side for the second half of cooking, just in case.

Grilling pork chops: With so many vegetables on the scene, I used a single large chop and split it in half after cooking. I used a mallet to pound the chop to an even thickness of about ¾ inch, then rubbed it with — you guessed it — a little olive oil, salt and pepper. (We had a “smokehouse grind” pepper in the cupboard, so I sprinkled a little of that, too, on the side that didn’t have freshly cracked pepper.) Grill the chop over medium to medium-high heat for 6–8 minutes per side,** until there’s no pinkness left in the middle. Remove from grill, tent with foil and let sit for another 5 minutes before serving.

** (I tested our cut with a meat thermometer after I pulled it off the grill and the internal temp was around 185 degrees, which as it turns out is higher than the 145 recommended by the USDA. I wouldn’t recommend going that high with a thinner cut, but ours turned out wonderfully. It was my favorite part of the meal, carnivore that I am. Mr. Brooks still liked the beets best, charred or not.)

Here’s what I like best about this dinner: no extra ingredients required, just olive oil, salt and pepper. Simple but tasty. Next time I’d slice the beets thicker, and maybe try leaving the foil on the zucchini uncovered for at least part of the grilling, just to get the final product a little less steamed-y, but we both were more than happy with tonight’s results. Which is good, because I have just as much zucchini still in the crisper and three more chops in the freezer.

P.S: What it worked out to, per serving: 21 cents for zucchini, 99 cents for beets, 91 cents for half a pork sirloin chop. That’s $2.11.

P.S.S.: I almost titled this post “Beets, So Lonely,” in honor of this song from 1985. Ah, Charlie Sexton!

WHAT SAM WORE: 7-16-12
The shirt: Cotton polo shirt, from my most recent trip to Uniqlo, New York.
The pants: Light-wash “S001” (slim straight) jeans from Uniqlo, New York.
The shoes: Jack Purcell sneakers by John Varvatos for Converse,
from Nordstrom Rack in Scottsdale.

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