Beets are an ancient root that originally grew along coastlines of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Ancient Romans believed beets to be an aphrodisiac—guess what? They were right! The nitrates found in beets convert into nitric oxide through the body’s natural functions, widening blood vessels and increasing circulation. So eat more beets, one and all!
Initially, only the greens of beets were consumed, rather than the root vegetable itself. This changed when Andreas Margraff, a chemist in Germany in the mid-1700s, discovered that this ancient root vegetable contained sucrose (sugar). At the time, there was no real method of extracting sucrose from beets, so it would be another 50 years before it was possible to utilize beets as a source of sugar. However, I love beets for an entirely different reason: Beet Béchamel.
Béchamel is one of the “mother” sauces in French cuisine; it is used in a hundred different ways—each and every one delicious! Imagine warm, creamy of creamiest ice creams lightly melting in your mouth, rich with subtlety that lets all the flavors of the meal shine through, only enhancing the profile. That’s bechamel. Delicious. Béchamel’s true base consists of butter, cream, and flour—but I’ve given it a little twist here by making it vegan and gluten free. I hate to mess with the perfection of flavors offered by the traditional base ingredients of this sauce, but I believe the richness in this new version is comparable. The earthy sweetness of beets, coupled with the rich creaminess of the béchamel, makes this dish a delight on the dinner table. Try it and see what you think!
1 pound beets with the greens
7 ounces creamed coconut (I use Let’s Do Organics)
1 cup gluten-free flour or almond meal (try Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix)
3 cups coconut milk, heated
½ cup water
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Separate the greens from the beets, wash them and set aside for later. Place the beets in a pressure cooker with one inch of water in the bottom; bring to temperature, and then turn down to low for 10 minutes. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker, simply boil until a fork comes out easily.) While the beets are cooking, start on your béchamel sauce.
In a medium saucepan, combine coconut milk, bay leaves, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer over low heat—be sure to watch carefully to avoid scorching the milk.
In a separate medium saucepan, melt the creamed coconut in ½ cup of water. Once it’s melted, whisk in your flour of choice—constantly stirring to prevent lumps from forming in your sauce.
Then, while continuing to stir, slowly add the heated milk mixture (pull out the bay leaves first!). Remove from the heat when a thick, creamy texture has developed.
Peel the finished beets under cold running water; the outer layer should fall right off. Slice as thin as possible—I like to use my Cuisinart on its thinnest blade—and layer into a 9x13 baking dish. Pour the béchamel evenly over the beets and bake at 350℉ for 25 minutes.
Sauté the beet greens in one tablespoon of coconut oil and a dash of salt. When you pull the Beet Béchamel out of the oven, throw the greens on top! Serve it up; you’ll find it to be as big of a hit as Napoleon’s Beet Sugar was in the early 1800s!