We keep stalks of sugarcane in a galvanized bucket on the table in front of the wood-burning stove, using them to flavor a roast the way other restaurants might use a few sprigs of thyme or rosemary. We split open a piece and throw it into the pan to highlight whatever natural sweetness will be brought out by the fire. When we get a delivery of sugarcane, we hack the long stalks in 2-foot pieces with a machete; you might be able to find smaller pieces in a Mexican grocery or even at Whole Foods.
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Put the beets, sugarcane, if using, and basil in a baking dish and fill about one-third full with water. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until a knife pierces all the way through a beet easily. Remove the beets from the liquid and let cool slightly. Increase the oven temperature to 425°F.
3. Meanwhile, make the avocado-habanero crema: Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend on high for about 10 seconds. Turn off the blender and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula to make sure everything gets a turn. Repeat until a smooth cream forms—this will take more than a few tries. Season to taste if necessary. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes, or until ready to serve.
4. Cut the beets in half and place in a large cast-iron skillet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the beets are hot all the way though and the ends have started to crisp up.
5. Serve the beets topped with the crema, dusted with allspice and chile lime salt.
Chile Lime Salt
Makes about 2 tablespoons
Our version of a finishing salt, this brings a note of intrigue to any dish. It’s simple to make: Toast dried árbol chiles in a cast-iron pan, pulverize them in a spice grinder, and mix in lime zest and salt. That’s it. The smoky, spicy, tangy salt is just the right flourish for grilled fish, but you can use it in or on just about any dish. We sprinkle it over the odd-shaped pieces left over when we make jicama salad, or you could use it on radishes or eggs.
1. Toast the chiles in a dry cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Let cool. Pulse the chiles in a spice grinder to a fine powder. Mix with the salt and lime zest. Store in a tightly sealed jar in a cool place.
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Excerpted from Hartwood by Eric Werner and Mya Henry (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Gentl & Hyers.