If bringing some adventure and international flavor to your traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas table sounds appealing, beets may be in your future.
Beets hold a special place on the holiday menu for Leo Maurelli, executive chef of The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center.
Chef Leo, as he’s affectionately known, was born and raised in Panama. He says one of the big things he and his family does is “eat a lot of beets.”
“Beets are one of our things, so we always made this potato salad with beets on them,” he says. “That’s a staple for the table.
“I can remember my grandmother making that beet salad when I was 6. It’s like cornbread dressing — you can remember having cornbread dressing for as long as you can remember eating Thanksgiving. That’s just one of those things we always incorporated into holidays tables in our house.”
When Chef Leo and his family moved to the United States in the early ’90s, Thanksgiving was something new to them. He said they celebrated the holiday, but the dinner table was infused with a lot of the traditional foods they ate in Panama, including the Beet Potato Salad.
“Most people do the turkey and the dressing and all that stuff, but for us having that beet salad in the middle of the table it’s always like holiday food,” he said. “When we lived in Panama, it was a traditional Sunday meal thing, so when we moved here more and more it became one of those dishes that we pulled out on the holidays, so Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Chef Leo said it’s basically just like potato salad, but that he makes it a little different than his grandmother made it. “It used to be a traditional potato salad, and then we would cut the beets and fold them into the potato salad at the end, so the potato salad gets a little purple,” he said. “The way I do it now, I make a traditional Romesco sauce, which is a Spanish sauce, and then I fry my potatoes to give them a little crunch, and then we put pickled beets on that. When I do it at home, I do it that way.”
He said he pulls out the recipe at Arricia from time to time when he wants to do something different or they have tastings, but it’s not an everyday dish.
“I don’t have any secret recipes,” he said. “That’s just one of the things I just kind of always hold close to my vest because it’s not an everyday. It kind of takes the special away if you do it every day.”
Chef Leo said things have been going well since he returned to the AU Hotel in June, and that it’s “good to be home.” He first worked at the hotel in 2003 as a banquet cook before leaving a few years ago after serving as the Chef de Cuisine.
“Coming back to run the place — it’s a familiar building, familiar kitchen, but a whole different role,” he said. “It’s good; it’s challenging.”
The hotel will serve a traditional Thanksgiving brunch buffet on Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The cost for adults is $45, children $19 and children 5 and under are free. A Thanksgiving dinner will be served from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Beet Potato Salad
About 12 beets
3 tablespoons of salt
2 tablespoons blended oil
2 cups of water
Wash and clean beets separate so the colors don’t bleed onto each other. Then put the separated beets into 2 inch hotel pans. Add the salt and oil, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Let cool down and drain the water. With a towel, gently rub the skin off the beets, then cut in quarters. Vacuum seal so they stay fresh
1/2 cup hazelnuts toasted
1/2 cup pinenuts toasted
1 #10 can roasted red bell peppers
1/2 cup parsley
1 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 5x6 tomatoes that have been blanched, skins removed and de-seeded
Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth
Smoked Paprika Aioli
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon salt
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 cups blended oil
Take first 6 ingredients and put in blender, pulse 3-4 times then turn on the blender low, slowly adding the oil until it emulsifies
Yukon Gold Potatoes
7 potatoes cubed
1 gallon water
1 cup salt
Put in a pot, let it boil on low heat till potatoes are cooked but not overcooked. Immediately let cool down in cooler
Spread Romesco sauce on plate. Toss potatoes in aioli and place on top of sauce. Place beets on top of potatoes