In college, Slavic Department gatherings were the site of many memorable revelations: the perils of multiple vodka flights, the inevitability of the Tolstoy vs. Dostoevsky divide and, most importantly, this beet caviar. Six years later, it is still my go-to holiday party hors d’œuvre.
It turns out, the recipe is not an invention of my Russian professor, but rather an adaptation from Please To the Table, by Anya von Bremzen. Were the name of that cookbook any less amazing, I may find this disheartening.
Beet Caviar with Walnuts and Prunes
Adapted from Please To the Table, by Anya von Bremzen
Though you can serve this dip immediately (I certainly have), it's best made several hours in advance. These days, I add most of the ingredients to taste.
Yield: about 2 1/2 cups
3 large beets
1/3 cup brandy
7 pitted prunes
2-3 medium-size garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann’s (I’ve also substituted yogurt)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Wash the beets well. While still wet, wrap them individually in aluminum foil and place on a cookie sheet. Roast until tender and easily pierced with a knife, 60 to 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring the brandy to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour over the prunes and let soak for 30 minutes. Remove the prunes and chop finely, reserving the excess brandy.
When the beets are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and chop coarsely. Puree the beets and the garlic in a food processor until finely minced. [I usually start with one clove of garlic, and add more to taste.]
Transfer the beets to a bowl and add the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of reserved brandy, the chopped prunes, and the walnuts. Toss thoroughly with mayonnaise and season to taste. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for six hours or overnight.