This simple recipe for Roasted Beets with Avocado Habanero Crema comes from the Hartwood cookbook, written by the owners of Hartwood restaurant in Tulum, Mexico. It’s a uniquely delicious way to enjoy this rustic root vegetable, and surprisingly easy to pull off.
I had every intention to get this post up before last weekend, but then Soulberri happened. We reopened for the season last Saturday, which also happened to be Cinco de Mayo. It was a nice weekend aside from a bit of rain, and we had a great turnout, but boy am I exhausted. Nothing knocks the wind out of your sails like reopening a restaurant for the season.
Back in February, Chaser and I spent a few gorgeous days down in sunny Tulum, Mexico. This wasn’t my first time in Tulum, the ultra trendy boho-eco-chic beach town located about two hours south of Cancun. My family stayed there back when I was a junior in high school (aka a REALLY LONG time ago), but this time I was looking forward to experiencing the region as an adult, and not at an all-inclusive resort.
There’s a famous restaurant in Tulum you may or may not have heard of, called Hartwood. It’s owned and operated by Eric Werner and Mya Henry, a married couple who relocated to Tulum from NYC after being tired and burnt out from years of living the hectic east coast lifestyle (not t mention the freezing, never-ending winters). Inspiring is an understatement. They’ve become known for their incredibly innovate, locally inspired, farm+sea-to-table food, and as a result, getting a reservation is practically impossible. I did try, though. Of course I had to try.
I tend to roll my eyes at and avoid places like this, as I find they rarely live up to their hype. I go in expecting so much only to be let down by the service, the drinks, the food – and then, after all that – the bill. Hartwood keeps their first hour of service from 5-6pm free of reservations, meaning folks like you and me can walk up and wait in line to try their luck at snagging a table. Having no real agenda, and being so intrigued by the hype, we decided to give it a shot.
We showed up around 4:45, and really only had to wait about 20 minutes with about 30 other people before we got in. I was surprised! And I felt lucky, as it started pouring the moment we got seated, forcing the entirely outdoor restaurant to shut down half it’s tables until the weather cleared (which it did… eventually). Some of the people waiting behind us didn’t get to sit, but I think if the weather held out they would have been fine.
Up until this point, a lot of the service in Tulum had felt aloof and pretentious. I was expecting the same, if not worse, at a trendy spot like Hartwood, but instead we immediately felt welcome and at home. The staff explained the menu thoroughly, graciously answered our questions, and brought out some delicious tasting drinks that actually wound up being our least favorite part of the meal – which is saying something.
The pouring rain, the scent of the wood burning fire and the sweet sound of reggae pumping through the air made for such a relaxed and mellow vibe. It was so nice to just sit, sip and observe. The poor waitstaff was running through the torrential downpour, hovering over plates of food so they didn’t get wet. It was clearly an obstacle they’d encountered before, but amusing nonetheless.
We ordered a few different courses, and each one was better than the next. We were truly and utterly blown away by the food. The freshness, the rustic but artful presentations, and the wild mix of textures and flavors were all so expertly paired and beautifully balanced. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest, in fact, everything exceeded my expectations on all levels.
It was Saturday night, and the restaurant was starting to fill up, so we paid our bill and took off. We left feeling completely satisfied and almost giddy – a feeling I rarely experience when dining out. We decided we absolutely had to go back again the next day, and all night couldn’t stop talking about what we’d order the second time around.
The following night, our meal was just as good as the first, and one of the most memorable plates was a side of beets. Smoky and tender, perfectly seasoned and paired with a barely spicy, ultra creamy avocado habanero crema. It was mind boggling how delicious it was. Rarely do I ever go this crazy over beets, but it really truly was perhaps the best preparation of this humble root vegetable I’d ever experienced. It was one of the few dishes I felt was simple enough to recreate, and I couldn’t wait to get back in my kitchen to give it a try.
Upon returning home, I immediately went on Amazon and purchased the Hartwood cookbook. As soon as it arrived, I poured through the pages and reminisced about our time in Mexico and the wonderful food we ate. The beets were right there on page 100, and I knew I needed to make them ASAP.
So I did. And they were wonderful. The only thing I’d try to do different next time is to grill them over wood, just like they do at the restaurant, rather than roasting in the oven as the recipe instructs. That said, the beets still turned out beautifully, and the sauce is absolute perfection.
Creamy avocado is blended with tangy sour cream and just a touch of habanero chili. Yes, habaneros are outrageously hot, but they also have a lovely, fruity flavor. What a lot of people don’t realize is that they can be used without imparting all of their heat. Start with half, remove the seeds, taste and add more if you’d like. I wound up using one and a half seeded habaneros, and my sauce was still pretty mild.
I hope you try this recipe, but even more so, I hope you make it down to Tulum at some point in your lifetime so you can experience the magic of this beautiful beach town, but especially so you can eat at Hartwood, one of my favorite dining experiences to date.
One Year Ago: Scones with Prosciutto, Goat Cheese, and Strawberry Butter, Blueberry Rosemary Vodka Spritzers, Risotto with Spring Vegetables
Two Years Ago: Cheesy Corn + Poblano Rice Casserole, Taco Cake, Celery Root Remoulade
Three Years Ago: Spiedini alla Siciliana, Spanish Gigante Bean Salad, Parmesan Spinach
Four Years Ago: Spanish Kale Salad
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- 4 large beets, scrubbed
- 8 basil sprigs
- Olive oil for drizzling
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Ground allspice for finishing
- 1 ripe Hass avocado, halved, pitted, and peeled
- 1/2 - 2 habanero chilis, seeded (leave the seeds in for more spice)
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 4 dried árbol chilies
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- Grated zest from 3 limes
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Place the beets and basil in a baking dish and fill with water about 1/3 way up. Cover tightly with foil, then bake for approximately 1 hour or until a knife can easily pierce all the way. Remove the beets from the liquid and let cool. Increase the oven temperature to 425°F or prepare a charcoal grill with a few wood chips.
- Slice the beets in half, then place in a large cast iron skillet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast or grill for about 20 minutes, or until crisp and starting to char.
- Add the avocado, habanero, sour cream, olive oil, honey, salt and pepper to a blender and blend on high for about 10 seconds. Stop to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, then repeat until a smooth cream forms—this will take several minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes so the flavors can meld. Sauce can be made several hours in advance, but will start to discolor after a day.
- Toast the chiles in a dry heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Let cool. Pulse the chiles in a spice grinder or food processor to a fine powder, then mix with the salt and lime zest. Store in a tightly sealed jar in a cool place. This will make more than you need for this recipe, but can be used to season a wide variety of other dishes.
- Serve the beets warm, topped with a generous dollop of crema, then dusted with a pinch of allspice and chile lime salt.