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The Beat on Colorful Beets

It all started with the “Spring Beet Blend” that I noticed in the root crop trials at my work. At first I thought it was a planting error on my part, since uniformity is what I generally look for in any particular variety. With a mix of ruby red, neon orange, candy cane striped, and snow white, this was far from a uniform stand. A quick check on the ID tag revealed two things:

1. This was a blend and therefore appropriately varied.

2. I don’t pay enough attention to what I’m putting in the ground.

I got excited about these beets. I get excited about vegetables in general, but these seemed really special. So I snagged a couple of the largest of each color and tossed them in the cooler before continuing on with the rest of my trial evaluations.

The (now) famous Spring Beet Blend

Flash forward to later that day, and I began assembling the ingredients for a big dinner salad.

As a quick aside, it’s important you know how seriously I take salad. My real introduction to farming came a couple of years ago when I spent half a year apprenticing on a beautiful organic farm in the Oregon coastal range.

Their specialty? Salad.

And I don’t mean any old “salad bar” mix that you mask with cheese and dressing. These mixes are full of color, flavor, and shape. Months of exposure to this incredible substance turned me into a self-declared salad aficionado.

A throwback to the salad farming days of my past

So when I began my prep that evening, you have to understand that it feels like a ritual to me. The beautiful beets sat beside many other veggies on my cutting board, awaiting transformation into an amalgamation of stunning fresh food. I sliced, I diced, and I began to layer my vegetable elements onto the radiant mesclun salad greens, the way you might assemble a mandala or pizza.

First the heaviest items: rounds of bright Nantes carrots, and thin wedges of those sweet beets in shades of pomegranate, nectarine, peppermint, and vanilla ice cream.

Then lighter items: slices of crunchy snap peas in purple, yellow, and green, pale lime cucumbers, and little discs of scallions.

Finally herbs, fruit, and other embellishment: frilly cilantro, scarlet Nasturtiums, electric blue borage, and the deep indigo of blueberries.

The resulting salad is something I’d like to use as wall art, a table centerpiece, and of course as my favorite meal. In fact, it may have been my very best salad to date. I ate my glorious salad, and set aside a replica for my lunch the next day, and promptly moved on to other thoughts as on does after the satisfaction of a near-perfect meal.

My shock came the next day when I pulled my glass container from the depths of my backpack. The whirlwind of colors caught me off guard, and despite creating the salad less than a day before, it struck me as something wholly new and fantastic. It was a smorgasbord of color and flavor, and I cannot get the image it struck me with out of my head.

Of course I, like most optically unhindered folks, begin by eating with my eyes, but the role of pigment was somehow underrated in my mind. Eating whole foods, that lack the slate of available artificial dyes, has limited the color palette of my foods to the more gentle Earth tones.

Just LOOK at that striped Chioggia

The quad-color beets, and subsequent salad, reminded me that the natural world is full of vibrant surprises and seeking out the most edible ones might require a little more exploration on my part. It also gets me thinking back to my days studying plant biology, and all of the intricacies of plant pigments.

Are you inspired by the colors of your foods? What fruit or vegetable do you want to see wearing a new color?

Send me your thoughts and questions about this or any other veggie topics!

Stay tuned for the next Seed Underground post where we’re taking our exploration of color to a cellular level.

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