The holiday magic has really hit me this week, and along with tending to all the prep for holiday parties and traditions, I’ve found myself cooking with lots of reds and greens—beets, pomegranates, radishes, raspberries, kale, and dill being the heavy players. What better way to carry on the chromatic side of tradition than through creative cooking? The symbolic use of food has been a part of life for ages. Much like the mores and symbols that speak to us in our carols, ancient civilizations wove dramatic meaning into the prized foods of their times within the collective imagination of myths and legends. According to legends, Indian bees make honey because of divine intervention by twin brothers long ago. Beans were praised by Native Americans, but feared by Hindus. Mulberries get their deep red color from a Romeo and Juliet type story of Roman lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. From east to west, we find herbs, fruits, grains and other vegetable crops infused with mythological powers and meaning. While many of these ideas may be fanciful to us, there is some truth to this reverence of food magic. Many of the foods we find in mythology and folklore have been demonstrated to have real healthful, and sometimes medicinal, attributes. Mistletoe may have been considered a key to the underworld, as well as a giver of life and fertility, but it was also used as a tangible “cure-all” in Greece. Today, scientific studies have shown that mistletoe extract can stimulate the immune system and even kill cancer cells in a laboratory. Also, all of the foods of lore were whole foods in their natural state, when food’s nutrients are most potent. The power and beauty of food were acclaimed in this way before the inventions of food coloring, deep frying, or packaging. We won’t find myths based on candy bars, but we do find legends about cocoa beans. The foods linked with love, life, family, and death were the same foods eaten then and now to keep healthy – the foods of the old ways. To bring some old ways red & green, and a little food mythology, to your holiday parties this year, I’ve chosen to share Ana Sortun’s recipe for Beet Tzatziki.  Ol’ mistletoe can move right over, for beetroot juice has been legendary as an aphrodisiac. In folk magic, if a man and woman eat from the same beet, they will fall in love! And Aphrodite is said to have eaten beets to retain her extraordinary beauty. In Ancient Greece and Rome, dill was considered a sign of wealth and health, and used to make garlands for the brows of returning war heroes. Ana’s recipe brings together these ingredients in a spread fit for the gods and holiday season alike, blending the boldness of red beets with the emerald levity of minced dill weed. Greek Tzatziki typically uses cucumbers, but Ana’s replacement of beets makes for an arresting, electric-rose colored whip to spread over holiday crackers and breads. Beet Tzatziki Recipe by Ana Sortun Makes two cups INGREDIENTS: 2 cloves garlic, chopped 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice Sea salt 1 cup Greek or whole milk yogurt, including cream on top* 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil Freshly ground pepper 1 cup shredded boiled beets (about four the size of a golf ball) 1 tablespoons fresh dill DIRECTIONS: Combine the garlic in a mixing bowl with the lemon juice and salt to taste. Let stand for about 10 minutes. Stir in the yogurt and its cream, olive oil, and pepper. Fold in the beets and dill and adjust the salt and pepper. Refrigerate until chilled and serve. *For a dairy-free version, I used tofu vegan cream cheese in place of yogurt, for saltiness. —Sarah

Add a Comment