Meatless Monday: Meet the Beet Quesadilla


It’s not you, it’s me.

That’s what I’d been telling the beet all these years.

She’s a looker alright, but my love for the beet only ran pigment deep. All I needed was one bite to remind me I couldn’t get past the chalky texture, no matter how she’s prepared. Regretfully, I’d swear her off once again, fully aware of her nutritional prowess. (She’s loaded with folate, disease-fighting antioxidants and iron, known for its blood- and liver-purifying abilities.)


Beets and chard are among the surprises in Devra Gartenstein's veggie quesadillas. (Kim O'Donnel)

And then I moved to Washington state, where the long, fairly temperate growing season favors the underground crops, and I reckon there are more beet lovers per square mile here in Seattle than any other place I’ve been. My crew in Seattle laughs at my foolishness, somehow knowing that eventually I’ll change my tune.

I have. And it’s all Devra Gartenstein’s fault.

On a recent Sunday morning, while Mister MA and I were strolling through Ballard Market, one of our favorite new farm markets, filling our bags with produce and bread, we noticed a long line at the Patty Pan Grill, a quesadilla-and-tamale stand owned and operated by Gartenstein. (She also has a restaurant by the same name.)

While queued up with dedicated locals in the know, I watched the Patty Pan crew hard at work, manning a griddle full of hearty greens, onions and -- you got it -- beets.

Uh oh.

Nonetheless, I placed my order, wondering how in the world they could make a beet taste good in a quesadilla.

With my made-to-order quesadilla in hand, I looked at my tortilla wedges warily, taking a dainty and cautious first bite. The rest is history; the beet-and-greens filling was so damn good I lapped up every last morsel. Was it possible that this stubborn old dog was learning a new trick?

I went back for more the next week, and after the second round of beet-induced ecstasy, I e-mailed Gartenstein to share my tale. She was gracious enough to tweak the commercial griddle version for home cooks like you and me, and next time you’re in Seattle, you make sure you go and thank her, you hear?

In addition to their addictive qualities, there’s one other thing you must know about Gartenstein’s quesadillas if you’re planning to try this at home: The veggies must be sliced super thin. I recommend two options: a mandoline (the cheaper, plastic versions work great, by the way) or the slicer blade attachment for your food processor, both of which offer precision and consistency. Unless you have years of practice, the slicing-by-knife method is not recommended.

P.S. Gartenstein has two cookbooks to her name: the recently published "Local Bounty" and "The Accidental Vegan," which will be re-released next spring with Ten Speed Press.


Grilled Veggie Quesadillas
From chef Devra Gartenstein, Seattle, Wash.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon canola oil

½ onion, thinly sliced

1 unpeeled beet, very thinly sliced

1 cup thinly sliced green cabbage

1 zucchini, thinly sliced

1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped (I omitted the stems, as I found they didn’t soften quickly enough, but this is a personal preference)

1 teaspoon chili powder, mild or hot

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons water

Cooking spray

6 tomato- or spinach-flavored 8-inch flour tortillas

1 heaping cup grated Monterey jack or cheddar cheese

Other veggie options depending on season and cook's preference: Carrot rounds, lacinato kale, sliced mushrooms, parsnips, red bell or serrano peppers


Method

Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet. (I had great results using a wok.) Add onion and beet, and cook on medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often. Then add cabbage and zucchini and cook for 3 minutes longer.

Add chard, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt and water, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and all the water has evaporated.

Transfer the cooked vegetables from the skillet to a bowl, then wash and dry the skillet. (Because I used a wok, I used an additional pan on a second burner.) Heat clean skillet on a medium-low flame and spray it with cooking spray.

Lay a tortilla in the pan, then spread about 2 tablespoons of cheese over half over the tortilla. Cover the cheese with 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons of the cooked vegetables. Spread another tablespoon of cheese over the vegetables, then fold the tortilla in half and flip it with a spatula. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until the tortilla is nicely browned and the cheese is melted through.

Repeat with the remaining tortillas, cheese and vegetables. Cut each quesadilla into 4 wedges with a knife or pizza cutter.

Makes six servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 10, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Meatless Monday , Vegetarian/Vegan
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Comments

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Kim, I didn't know you did restaurant reviews, but the fact you cast Thunder Grill in a favorable tone makes me think you either had too many margaritas before you got your food, or you should leave that job to Tom.

Posted by: dr_klahn | November 10, 2008 9:05 AM

Ah! Very timely Kim; I will put a mandoline on my holiday wish-list. (By the way, I think by "the cheaper, plastic versions," you mean "about $20-$30," because the el cheapo one that I bought at Target is crap.)

I don't like beets either, and really am turned off when they're pickled with hard-boiled eggs. The colors are glorious, but ewww. Mr. Centre loves beets, so I should give this recipe a try! Thanks!

Posted by: CentreofNowhere | November 10, 2008 9:08 AM

Yikes, that restaurant profile is more than 10 years old! I shall alert the authorities. too old to be in our database. Writing about restaurants was one of my first jobs at wp.com when I started in July 1997.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | November 10, 2008 10:47 AM

Thanks for the recipe, Kim! I recently converted a beet-hater with Mark Bittman's recipe for beet rosti with rosemary: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9405E1DC153DF934A25755C0A96E958260

Posted by: Vienna | November 10, 2008 11:42 AM

Hi Kim,

wow, thanks! Just what I needed today as I am a beet lover and no one in the house is. But I picked some up anyway from the farmers and I always have chard.

Posted by: valvoci | November 10, 2008 2:15 PM

Hi Kim
It is so exciting that you are in Seattle which is our second home and such a great food city. If you have not tried it check out the Columbia City Farmers Mkt (Wed 3-7) during the summer months. Also the Columbia City Bakery, Geraldine's (fabulous breakfasts) and La Medusa (one of our all time favorite Italian restaurants). The same veggie quesadilla stand is at Columbia City market.

Posted by: eugeniaayers | November 10, 2008 4:52 PM

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