Short Order: If you can't beet them, join 'em

I made a wonderful winter soup featuring beets, from the Moosewood Cookbook.

'Let's face it," declares the Aim for Herbs Web site, "beets are a beaten vegetable. Blood-red and looking like a badly shaped tennis ball with a tail, they are not high on the favorite foods list. They do show up in Aunt Mabel's family reunion salad, but they are not found very often on dinner plates." That depends on whose dinner plates you are talking about. While beets may have fallen victim to "familiarity breeds contempt," being ubiquitous and inexpensive, the cognoscenti value them as a source of folic acid and fiber, vitamins C and A, and calcium and iron. They are said to help with urinary tract infections and kidney stones, and in the battle against cancer. I RECENTLY made a wonderful winter soup featuring beets, from the Moosewood Cookbook. Untraditionally, I served it to guests on a Friday night; no one seemed to miss the chicken soup. RUSSIAN CABBAGE BORSCHT 2 Tbsp. butter or oil 11⁄2 cups chopped onion 11⁄2 cups thinly sliced potato 1 cup thinly sliced beets 1 large, sliced carrot 1 stalk chopped celery 3 cups chopped cabbage 1 scant tsp. caraway seed 1 Tbsp. raisins (optional) 4 cups stock or water 2 tsp. salt black pepper to taste 1⁄4 tsp. dried dill 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. vinegar 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. honey 1 100-gr. container tomato puree, made up to 1 cup with hot water Place the potatoes, beets and water in a saucepan and cook until tender. Save the water. In a large pan, begin sauteing the onions in the butter or oil. Add the caraway seeds and salt. Cook until the onion is translucent, then add the celery, carrots and cabbage. Add the water from the beets and potatoes and cook, covered, until all the vegetables are tender. Add the potatoes, beets and remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer slowly for around 30 minutes; taste to correct the seasonings. LAST SHABBAT I enjoyed a beet dish adapted by Iraqi-Indian Jews from the Iraqi hamusta, which means "sweet and sour" (khatta in Hindustani). Iraqi Jews who settled in India substituted chicken for the more traditional beef because, as my hostess explained, they couldn't easily obtain the services of a shohet or ritual slaughterer. BEET KHATTA 8 portions of chicken, ideally legs and thighs 1 large onion, chopped 1 tsp. powdered ginger 1 tsp. powdered garlic or 2 garlic cloves, chopped 1 tsp. turmeric salt and pepper to taste 2 Tbsp. oil 4 medium beets, cooked in water to cover (reserve the liquid) 2⁄3 of an 800-gr. can of tomatoes juice of 1 lemon (or 2 Tbsp. tamarind syrup) 1 dessert-spoon sugar (optional) mint leaves, chopped Boil the beets for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile (optional) remove the skin from the chicken. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion, spices and chicken; turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add 2 cups of boiling water, the lemon juice or tamarind and the tomatoes, cover and cook gently for another 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is soft. Slice the beets and add them and their liquid to the chicken mixture. Cook for a few minutes longer. Taste. If too sour, add a little sugar; if not sour enough, add some lemon juice (or lemon salt). Add the mint leaves for flavor. Serve over plain white rice, preferably basmati. Notes: 1. Kubbehs, store-bought or made yourself, are an excellent addition to beet khatta. 2. This dish is often made with okra (bamya) instead of the beets, using either parsley or mint. HERE'S A version of a salad by "Birgitte" at recipegal.com that could tempt new adherents onto the "beeten path." TANGY BEETS 4-6 beets, peeled 1⁄2 cup feta cheese 2 Tbsp. capers, drained 2 stalks of scallions or red onion finely chopped lettuce leaves Dressing: juice of 1 lemon red wine vinegar olive oil 1 clove garlic, crushed salt and pepper to taste Peel the beets and wrap them in foil. Roast them in the oven for about 40 minutes, until just tender. Cool and slice. Combine the capers, scallions and beets, and toss them in the dressing. Serve on shredded lettuce, with the cheese crumbled on top. [email protected]