There’s a recipe in here, but there’s also a story.
The inspiration for this recipe is a combination of Beats, Rhymes, and Life, a classic album from the legendary hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest, and a lime beet salad from the renowned chef Rick Bayless. I know it’s an odd combination, but it might make sense to those who know me. Here’s some background info for those who don’t know me.
First, I’m an unapologetic hip-hop head who came of age in the 80s and 90s. Second, I love Mexican food. This recipe reflects both these loves. Plus, I touch on a few of the health benefits associated with beets.
My love of beat making began with Dj-ing and the producer, J-Dilla (RIP). I started Dj-ing in the mid-90s after the DJ-battle scene in Juice opened my eyes to the possibilities that exist in a humble pair of turntables. At that time, I didn’t know what they were doing in the movie, but I knew I wanted to do it. After flipping 10,000+ burgers at McDonald’s, I earned enough money to buy two turntables and a cheap Gemini mixer. When I was in high school, I spent my nights ‘scratching’ records much like Omar Epps in this GIF from the movie.
The 90s was an epic time for hip-hop and DJ-ing. From 1992 to 1996, a classic hip-hop album went on sale every Tuesday. This was before iTunes and Spotify—so you had to actually go to a store to buy music. Sounds crazy right? Physically purchasing an album may seem like something straight from the Dark Ages to some people. Don’t get me wrong, downloading music is convenient, but I miss album liner notes.
The liner notes gave all the details I needed to convince myself to buy an album. Who produced the tracks? What instruments were on the songs? What songs did they sample? In the pre-digital era, you couldn’t easily listen to snippets before buying an album. The liner notes helped you decide to take a leap of faith and spend $10-20 on an album you’ve never heard before (when I was making $4 an hour at McDonald’s, spending $20 on anything was a decision I didn’t take lightly).
In 1996, A Tribe Called Quest came out with Beats, Rhymes, and Life. The album wasn’t necessarily their greatest album, but there was something different about it. It didn’t have the jazzy, ‘break-beat’ vibe of previous Tribe albums. The beats were filtered, subtle, and different than a lot of hip-hop out at that time. When I looked at the album liners, I found out that Jay Dee/J-Dilla was one the album’s producers (unlike their prior albums). Around that same time, I came across a J-Dilla remix of Busta Rhymes’ “Woo Hah”— it also had a vibe unlike anything I heard then.
J-Dilla would go on to become one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time. Regardless of where you feel Dilla belongs in the pantheon of hip-hop producers, Dilla’s sound motivated me to move beyond DJ-ing and try beat-making. His laid-back beats reminded me of my personality. Sadly, Dilla passed in 2006 away from complications due to Lupus. Every February, Dilla fans celebrate his music on Dilla Day (hence this February blog post dedicated to J-Dilla). Check out this brief documentary if you aren’t familiar with J-Dilla.
My beet making story starts with chef Rick Bayless—he’s been a staple in Chicago’s Mexican food scene for many years. Honestly, I didn’t know about him when I was younger. In the 80s and 90s, if you lived on the Southside of Chicago or in the South Suburbs, your knowledge of fine Mexican food was pretty much limited to a restaurant called Pepe’s. I didn’t find out about Rick Bayless until the early the 2000s when I was a medical student at Northwestern—the medical campus resides in the downtown neighborhood, River North, several blocks from Rick Bayless’ flagship restaurant, Frontera Grill.
After one of the semi-stressful tests on all that can go wrong with the human body, I went to check out Frontera Grill with a few my classmates to celebrate ending a week of sleep deprivation. A beet salad with a lime salad dressing piqued my interest, though I’m not sure why— I didn’t grow up eating beets. Just like airports have no-fly lists, beets were on my no-eat list. Nonetheless, I ordered the salad. The salad ‘had me’ at first bite—like it was the food version of a scene from Jerry Maguire.
I’ve been a beet lover ever since. Just like J-Dilla inspired me to make beats, Rick Bayless inspired me to make beets.
5 health benefits of beets
Like many vegetables, beets have numerous health benefits. Here are just a few of them.
1. Decreasing the risk of cognitive decline
Some things get better with age, but for most people, the brain isn’t one of those things. Decreased blood flow within the brain is one of the factors that contributes to cognitive to decline. Beets may counteract this process because of their high nitrate content. Nitrates relax blood vessels. This relaxation facilitates blood flow. One study in older adults used MRIs to demonstrate that beetroot juice improves blood flow in the brain’s frontal cortex, “a region of the brain responsible for essential cognitive processes such as executive function, working memory, and task-switching .”
2. Lowering Blood Pressure
Just like beets affect the flow of blood within the brain, they also affect blood flow throughout the rest of the body. Accordingly, numerous studies show that beetroot juice can modestly lower blood pressure .
3. Antioxidant properties
Beets are high in antioxidants including vitamin C, beta-carotene, and bioactive pigments. For diet to be considered healthy, it has to be rich in antioxidants. Diets high in foods with antioxidants may even have the potential to lower one’s risk of developing various cancers .
4. Decreasing Inflammation
One of the pigments responsible for beets red color, betanin, can suppress a key inflammatory enzyme, cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). One study shows that this effect, at high amounts of betanin, is comparable to taking anti-inflammatory drugs (Ibuprofen, Vioxx, and Celebrex) .
5. Improving Athletic Performance
The effects of nitrates on athletic performance aren’t a secret amongst athletes. Nitrates enhance the delivery of oxygen to muscles during periods of exercise by improving blood flow. Hence, if you go to a GNC store, you’ll come across tons of Nitric Oxide Supplements. Several studies show that the nitrates in beets may elicit similar effects. In 2011, one study compared the effects of taking 500 mL daily of beet juice with nitrates and beet juice without nitrates on athletic performance. The authors found that the beet juice that had its naturally occurring nitrates increased the time to exhaustion during running by 15% .
Beets, Limes, and Rice—The Recipe
There are tons of recipes for roasted beets. I typically just roast my beets whole. I decided to do something different when I came across some beet noodles at Mariano’s. Everyone is into using pasta alternatives nowadays. It’s great to see that there are pre-made options for people who don’t have a spiralizer to make vegetable noodles from scratch.
There’s nothing fancy going on here—just spiralized beets roasted in oil then topped with onions, lime juice, queso fresco, and a small amount of brown rice or quinoa. I typically use the recipe as a topping for salads, tacos, or veggie bowls. You can use it as a stand-alone slaw, but it works well as a flavor enhancer.
What’s the Bottom Line?
- Beats are healthy. Beets are also healthy.
- J-Dilla is the G.O.A.T. #fightme
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