We’re feeling fall at the market! New greens and root vegetables are beginning to make an appearance, and I’m giddy with delight. But my new favorite ingredient of the moment isn’t chard – it’s char. I love the smoky, slightly exotic, haunting hint of bitterness it brings to almost any dish, and I’ve been exploring ways to incorporate it into all kinds of things. I’ve identified Francis Mallman, perhaps char’s biggest advocate, as a source of inspiration all summer. We’ve stoked fires and cooked over live coals for months now after watching him on the Netflix series “Chef’s Table”.
And now I’ve discovered some new poster kids for my favorite flavor: Eric Werner and Mya Henry are just as inspiring. At their restaurant, Hartwood in Tulum, they cook everything over a wood-fired grill and in a wood-burning oven. After losing myself in the pages of their lushly photographed new cookbook, I might or might not have spent an afternoon searching for flights to the Riviera Maya (shh, don’t tell my travel-weary husband!). It’s that incredible. Until I can hop a flight to a palapa under the stars, though, I will content myself with cooking every recipe in the book, beginning with this one. Sweet earthy beets take on char in a cast-iron skillet. Their bittersweet flavor is tempered by a rich, silky avocado crema and a sprinkle of tart and piquant chile-lime salt (you’ll want to start sprinkling this on everything, I promise). I honestly can’t remember the last time I tasted anything so fantastic – I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Recipe adapted from Hartwood by Eric Werner & Mya Henry
- 3-4 large beets, scrubbed and trimmed
- 1 bunch basil
- olive oil for drizzling
- salt and pepper
- 1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted and peeled
- ½ habanero pepper, seeds and inner membranes discarded
- ½ c sour cream or crème fraiche
- ¼ c olive oil
- 1 t honey
- salt and pepper, to taste
- juice of 1 small lime
- 2 t Aleppo pepper
- 1 t flaky salt
- zest of 1 lime
- Preheat the oven to 375. Place beets in a baking dish and surround them with basil (you can use whole sprigs). Sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, fill pan with water to reach halfway up beets, and cover the pan tightly with foil. Roast until beets are tender but not mushy. Remove to a plate and cool.
- Meanwhile, make the avocado crema. Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Keep in refrigerator until ready to use.
- To make the chile lime salt, combine ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
- When beets are cool enough to handle, slip the skins off, but leave the root and stem ends intact for a more rustic look. Cut beets in half lengthwise. Heat a heavy skillet over high heat (a cast iron skillet works great) until smoking. Place beets in skillet cut side down and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Once beets develop a good char, flip them over and cook the other side. When done, remove them to a serving plate and top with a big dollop of avocado crema. Sprinkle with chile lime salt and serve.