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Beets with Avocado Puree and Pumpkin Seed Crumble

At his award-winning Aziza restaurant in San Francisco, Moroccan-born chef Mourad Lahlou has featured beets on the menu since day one and has prepared them in countless ways. He thinks the musty, earthy quality of beets calls for something fluffy and creamy, and eventually he arrived at whipped avocado. You can make this salad with one kind of beet, but an assortment of colors (and their respective, quite distinctive flavors) is more fun. When you include red beets in the mix, cook them separately (as directed here) so they won’t turn the other beets red.

Ingredients:

For the beets:

  • 6 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup sherry vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. kosher salt
  • 6 star anise
  • 2 tsp. Tellicherry peppercorns
  • 2 tsp. green cardamom pods
  • 2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 12 small golden beets, each 1 1/2 oz.
  • 12 small Chioggia beets, each 1 1/2 oz
  • 12 small red beets, each 1 1/2 oz.

For the pumpkin seed crumble:

  • 6 Tbs. pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbs. dark or light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • About 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt, to taste

For the avocado puree:

  • 1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted and peeled
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs. crème fraîche
  •  
  • 2 pink grapefruits
  • Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
  • Micro-greens, preferably bull’s blood, chickweed or chervil
  • Crunchy sea salt for sprinkling

Directions:

To prepare the beets, preheat an oven to 400°F.

In a bowl, combine the warm water, vinegar, kosher salt, star anise, peppercorns, cardamom pods and coriander seeds, stirring to dissolve the salt. Pour two-thirds of the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and the rest into an 8-inch square pan.

Leave the roots on the beets and trim the greens to 1/4 inch. Add the golden and Chioggia beets to the large pan and the red beets to the smaller one. Cover the pans tightly with aluminum foil, transfer to the oven and cook for 1 hour. Test the beets with a paring knife; the centers should be tender but not mushy. If your beets are larger than 1 1/2 oz., they may need to cook longer.

Remove the pans from the oven, remove the foil and let the beets cool to room temperature in the cooking liquid. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.

To prepare the pumpkin seed crumble, place the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Set aside.

Put the bread crumbs, brown sugar and lemon zest in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the pumpkin seeds and pulse a few times to break them up. With the machine running, slowly pour in enough olive oil so the mixture comes together into a moist crumble. Season with kosher salt.

To prepare the avocado puree, put the avocado, milk and a pinch of kosher salt in a blender and blend to a smooth puree. With the machine running, add the lemon juice. Transfer the puree to a bowl and fold in the crème fraîche. Taste and adjust the seasoning with kosher salt.

Cut away the peel and white pith from the grapefruits, then cut between the membranes to release the segments. Set aside.

Starting with the golden and Chioggia beets, rub each one gently with a paper towel to remove the skin. Gently rub the roots as well; if some of the delicate roots break off, that’s fine, but keeping some of them intact with make a more interesting presentation. Repeat with the red beets. Leave some of the beets whole and cut the rest into halves or wedges so you have a variety of shapes. Trim off some of the stems so that you can stand those beets up when you plate them.

Put each type of beet in a separate small bowl and toss with a light coating of olive oil. Dip the trimmed ends of some of the beets in the pumpkin seed crumble.

Place a generous spoonful of avocado puree on each serving plate. Pull a small offset spatula through part of the puree to form a thinner base of puree. Arrange a variety of beets over and around the puree on each plate. Garnish with the grapefruit sections, a sprinkling of the crumble, a few greens and a bit of sea salt. Serves 6.

Adapted from Mourad: New Moroccan, by Mourad Lahlou (Artisan, 2011).