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Low Mileage Kitchen: Beet salad wears colors well

Beets plums tomatoes mingle colorful salad. (Al Podgorski~Sun-Times)

Beets, plums and tomatoes mingle in a colorful salad. (Al Podgorski~Sun-Times)

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From the Farmstand

The year-round Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand, 66 E. Randolph, offers Midwest-grown foods and other locally produced edibles, including those used in this recipe. Cooking classes are offered through the World Kitchen program ( Reach the Farmstand at (312) 742-8419, or go to

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:50AM

With Labor Day behind us, we begin to cool off and focus on enjoying every moment of summer’s finale. The sun sets earlier but rewards us with long shadows and luscious peach, pink and orange colors in the evening sky.

One day a few weeks ago, we were pleasantly surprised by a message announcing that Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand had been anonymously nominated — and had won — the Golden Beet Award, given by the Stewardship Alliance. This award highlighted the Farmstand’s products, programs and activities.

Grateful for the recognition, I resolved to find a recipe using golden beets to honor this award and the customers who had nominated us.

The bins of beets at local markets should be overflowing this week, not only with the familiar ruby-red version, but new varieties in golden tones and even some with candy-cane stripes.

Beets offer an intense, earthy flavor and even more intense colors on the plate, and have the additional attribute of being incredibly healthful. I choose to save time and mess by leaving the skin on, removing only the hairy bits and rough parts near the stem.

The tops, too, contain essential vitamins, so don’t discard them. Wash them well and saute with a bit of onion for a deep green side dish.

While thinking of an appropriate recipe, I knew I was not interested in that overused pairing of beets with goat cheese; I wanted something fresh and new.

Conveniently, this also is the perfect time for plums and tomatoes. And what a colorful array they present, with new hybrids coming in a rainbow of shades. The three have something in common: each comes in hues of ruby, yellow, purple and amber.

What fun the experiments turned out to be. We chose yellow plums and beautiful yellow and purple small tomatoes to go with the golden beets, creating a trompe l’oeil effect, a French term that means “trick the eye.”

Fooling the eye is exactly what will happen when you toss these three ingredients together in a salad. Cut into similar sizes, the vegetables and fruits echo each other on the plate while offering slightly different textures. Selecting different hues of reds, ambers and yellows will add to the final effect, so experiment to see what interesting combinations you can make.

We like the golden and amber varieties, which remind us of one of those late summer sunsets. While your eyes will enjoy the presentation, your taste buds will be pleasantly confused. Savor slowly, just as you do these last, long-shadowed summer evenings.

Judith Dunbar Hines is director of culinary arts and events for the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, which operates Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand.

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