By Alison Steele
I want to share a recipe from one of my greatest friends, Maya. Born in Russia the same year I was, and living in Virginia with her family for as long as I’ve been living in California with mine. We met in the summer in downtown Staunton when she was 8 months pregnant and running a booth at the Farmers’ Market collecting plastics. She and her daughter were educating folks on what would and wouldn’t end up in the ground and what they could do about it. At the end of the market she would load up her tiny car and drive all these donations to neighboring cities that had at least one place in which to recycle this unsustainable packaging. Inseparable after that, we’d meet up at the pool, Jones Garden, the skatepark, Jazz in the Park, potlucks at my house, tea at hers. Every event was fueled with good food from both sides. It’s like we had known each other all our lives.
When I first started seeing the war coverage I called to ask her what she thought. She tried to explain the propaganda in Russia, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Censored press, Ukranian Nazis, Oligarchs, and prosperity under Putin? She was just as distraught as I was. Hadn’t all that disappeared when the Iron Curtain fell?
My heart is so heavy thinking about the madness an entire country of people are being made to endure. Many Russians have friends and family in Ukraine, share the same cuisine, drink, and music. I thought about what it meant to be a good neighbor, sharing all these things along with fear, laughter, and hope for a better world for our children. I always turn to good food for comfort, and this root recipe is grounding to be sure.
The origins of this dish point to Scandinavia, moving through Eastern Europe to both Ukraine and Russia, along with other slavic countries. Vinegret is beet salad at its finest, and Maya makes it best. She swears the secret is in the sunflower oil. This just happens to be the ultimate liver cleansing dish with the beets; anti-inflammatory and heart healthy with the sunflower oil; and a party for the microbiome with the potatoes and kraut. Easy to make and packed with flavor, this salad makes the body sing!
2 large carrots
3/4 c sauerkraut (or sour pickles!)
⅓ c sweet onion, diced small
4 T high oleic sunflower oil
Salt to taste
Bring a large pot of water to boil with a teaspoon of salt. Add the beets, potatoes, and carrots. Cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and let cool. Skin and dice the vegetables small. In a large bowl, toss with the onion, oil, and kraut. Add sea salt to taste, and garnish with rosemary flowers and green onion. Share a bowl with your neighbor.
A native of Virginia, Alison Steele lives with her husband, two children, and cat in Boulder Creek where she raises quail, chickens, fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs. Alison plays banjo and sings in Sugar by the Pound.
Photo by Alison Steele
Caption: Maya’s Vinegret: Beet Salad at its finest