A few years ago, visiting with friends in Bethesda, Maryland, we discovered a lovely kosher restaurant, on par with the best New York upscale kosher restaurants, minus New York prices, called Pomegranate (unfortunately, now extinct). The first time there, when I opened the menu, among an array of interesting appetizers, I saw Beets Napoleon. I was shocked! Beets Napoleon, a famous creation of the celebrated chef Wolfgang Puck, contains goat cheese. I was sure of it! I had seen it in Pomegranate kosher grocery store in New York, where they carry all kinds of unimaginable, unbelievable crafted cheeses. But this restaurant is fleishig, it serves meats – how could it be?
When the waiter came over to take our order, I inquired about the ingredients of their Beets Napoleon – what’s in it? “Beets, – was the answer, – duhh…” I got that all right, but what’s inside? “Inside? Inside where? Oh, in the middle? Just mayo, I think.” Aha! The kashruth issue settled, I ordered it out of pure curiosity. The stack of paper thin slices of beats layered with something pink and creamy was beautifully presented. “Just mayo” was delightfully garlicky, with a hint of cilantro. The beets, though, were somewhat bland. I made up my mind to reproduce it at home, and the next time our Bethesda friends visited with us, I served Beets Napoleon, my way, and waited for a verdict. The smoky flavor of the beets achieved by baking made all the difference – it was a winner!
So first of all, do not peel young beets! Scrub them very well under running water, but leave the skin on. A very thin outer layer may come off on its own after they have been baked. Fine, it’s their decision!
While you are scrubbing the beets, your oven should get up to 350. Place clean beets into a baking dish, cover tightly, pop into the oven, and forget about them for an hour. This is the only time-consuming step, but I am sure you have plenty of other things to do during this hour. And if you don’t, you can entertain your kids by watching together how Food Rocks at Epcot Center.
The original Wolfgang Puck’s recipe, copied by everybody, has roasted beets, rather than baked. However, I prefer baking because there is no oil whatsoever, and the beets acquire a nice smoky flavor. Once the beets beep at you, take them out, uncover the dish, and put them aside to cool off. You will see that there is a small amount of beet juice on the bottom of the dish. Guess what makes that creamy stuff pink!
While the beets are cooling off, you can make the “frosting.” I don’t use “just mayo,” though; I prefer Vegenaise. But this little touch is up to you. You’ll need about one tablespoon of it per one beet. Drain every drop of beet juice you can collect and mix it with Vegenaise.
You’ll also need garlic and cilantro. We like lots of garlic, so it’s one large clove per two beets, but if you prefer just a hint, adjust it to your taste.
Squeeze garlic into the “frosting,” add some salt and pepper, and mix very well to get not only the creamy consistency, but also this beautiful uniform coral pink color, without streaks. And don’t worry if your beets don’t give you much juice – even a few drops will make a lovely color.
If the beets have cooled sufficiently, start slicing them. You have to slice paper thin, trying to imitate flaky dough. I don’t own a mandoline veggie slicer. Usually my husband is my mandoline slicer, but he was at work, so I had to grit my teeth and do it myself. The hardest part was snapping a photo with the phone in my right hand while holding a beet slice in my left, all the time shooing away two curious cats who were wondering what kind of crazy antics I was up to!
You can make tall stacks if you want to, and they look gorgeous, especially if you alternate red and golden beet slices, but I only baked three small beets, and it was only for the two of us, so I cut slices for five stacks of three layers each. You have to actually sort them out by size, the largest being on the bottom and the smallest on top, otherwise the entire structure will collapse. Make sure you have equal number of slices in each pile, for the bottom, middle, and top layers.
Arrange bottom slices on a serving dish close to each other. Spread “frosting” on them and cover them with the next layer. Keep on layering, making sure your stacks are even in size. Spread the remainder of “frosting” on top.
Sprinkle fresh chopped cilantro on top and around. If you are not ready to serve right away, cover and refrigerate it to preserve the fresh look. Trust me, your guests will be impressed!
- 3 medium to small young beets
- 3 tablespoons Vegenaise
- 1 – 2 large garlic cloves, squeezed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh chopped cilantro to garnish
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Scrub beets well under running water. Place beets into baking dish, cover tightly, bake for 1 hour.
- Remove beets when done, set aside to cool.
- Drain beet juice, mix with Vegenaise, add squeezed garlic, salt and pepper. Adjust seasoning to taste. Mix thoroughly to avoid color streaks.
- Slice beets paper thin, separate into even piles by size.
- Arrange large slices on serving dish close to each other. Spread creamy mix. Cover with smaller slices. Keep layering to create even stacks.
- Spread creamy mix on top, garnish with chopped cilantro.
- Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.