All About Beets
With recipes for
- Red And Yellow Beet Salad With Orange Vinaigrette
- Cold Beet Soup
- Beet And Beet Greens Gratin
- Raw Beet Salad With Apples And Raisins
The list of vegetables that kids hate is a long one. But beets are a good candidate for the top of the list, and a lot of adults have never outgrown their disdain for beets either.
Why? First, most of the beets we got as kids came from a can. And even though canned beets are a decent substitute for fresh in some dishes (like the cold beet soup below), in many dishes they aren’t.
Second, many people just don’t know what do with beets except dump some sugar and orange juice on them and heat them up. No wonder most beet presentations look as if they came from the high school cafeteria line.
Then there’s the stain factor. Who wants to have the beet version
of the Scarlet Letter all over the kitchen - and for a vegetable they don’t
Yes, beets have a tough row to hoe. But they’re worth spending some time on, especially when they’re accompanied by their highly nutritious greens.
One way to start is to allow beets’ natural sugar - as high as eight percent - to come through without being masked. Roasting does this nicely. And speaking of roasting, beets make a delicious companion to roasted meats, especially pork and duck. Onion or a touch of garlic helps to accent the sweetness, if you’re looking for a contrast.
And about those red stains? Rosalind Creasy, author of "Cooking from the Garden" (Sierra Club Books, 1988), suggests yellow or white varieties. If you can’t find them, try growing them on your own. Look for Burpee’s Golden or Albino White Beet.
Beets don’t have the kind of history that inspires books or poetry. About the most interesting thing you can say about beets, which have apparently been cultivated since prehistoric times, is that early Romans only ate the tops, leaving the roots for medicinal purposes. However, once the Romans got around to cooking the bulbs (probably sometime after the birth of Christ), they found that they liked them very much indeed.
Beets, sugar beets and chard are in the same family, which is why chard leaves (the red-ribbed ones in particular) look so much like beet greens. All three were developed from wild species in Southern Europe.
In the USA, beets are grown commercially in 31 states. California, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas are the main producers. Beets are also imported from Mexico and Canada.
There are several varieties of mass-produced beets, but all are pretty much the same—round or with slightly flattened ends, a dusty red exterior, and deep red flesh inside.
You’ll need to seek out local farmer’s markets and specialty produce retailers for less common varieties of beets. The Italian chioggia, for example, is bright red on the outside with white inside flesh marked by red rings. Golden beets are more orange than gold and are a favorite of home gardeners, though small farmers will also grow them; they tend to be sweeter than red beets.
Beet greens are often discarded in favor of the bulbs to which they are attached, which is unfortunate because they contain a wonderful, earthy flavor. When small, they can be put in a salad mix. If larger, they should be braised, stewed or boiled like other hearty greens.
For the most part, beets are available all year long. But the peak period, particularly for local and more exotic varieties, is June through October. It’s also the time of year when beet greens should be at their best.
SELECTION, STORAGE & HANDLING
Beets should be relatively smooth and firm. Small to medium size ones are best -- large ones may be tough. Leaves should be bright, dark green and fresh looking, without withering or slime.
To store beets, separate the leaves from the root, leaving an inch or two of the stems attached to the root. Remove any leaves that are damaged before storing the tops in a plastic bag - preferably one that is perforated - in the crisper section of the refrigerator for no more than a few days. Don’t peel or clean the root since the skins will slip off easily during cooking. Put roots in a plastic bag and put them in the refrigerator, where they will keep at least a week.
A 100 gram serving of beets (1 medium beet, about 3 ounces) has 50 calories, .5 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber and 1 gram of protein. Beets are also a good source of potassium (about 312 mg per serving) and a fair source of vitamin A (4% of the RDA).
Beet greens are more nutritious than the beets themselves. They have almost twice the potassium of beets and high amounts of beta carotene, an important antioxidant that helps to fight numerous diseases. Beet greens contain high levels of folic acid, which can help ward off certain birth defects and lung cancer. And speaking of lungs, some studies indicate that beet greens can dampen cravings for nicotine, which may help smokers kick the habit.
A pound of trimmed beets will yield about 2 cups, chopped. A good sized bunch of beet greens will yield about 4 cups, chopped.
If you’ve got some leftover roast beef from Sunday or holiday dinner, try making an old-fashioned dish called red-flannel hash. All you do is combine diced beets with cubes of cooked beef, cooked potato and chopped onion, and fry in a large skillet until crisp and delicious.
Many recipes, particularly older ones, call for boiling beets. But this promotes bleeding as well as loss of nutrients. I like steaming - in the skins, unwashed - which takes about 35 to 40 minutes, depending on size. Then jackets slip off easily and beets are ready for salads and other preparations.
Microwaving with a small amount of water takes about half that time.
Baking and roasting of vegetables has become more popular of late, and beets are a natural for these methods. Baking implies more moderate temperatures (300-375 degrees), while roasting means higher than 375 degrees. Beets can be cooked in a covered or uncovered container, but always with skins left on. Cooking times, of course, will vary depending on the method chosen and the siz of the beets.
Beet greens should be handled like other cooking greens. Clean them in lots of cool water, then drain them in a colander, spin them dry in a salad spinner or cook them with their clinging water as you would with spinach. Often I like to roll stacked, uncleaned leaves and cut them crosswise before cleaning. These strips can then be cooked quite easily by boiling, steaming or braising.
I usually cook the stems unless they are very thick. Just cut thick stems into small pieces. Steaming and quick boiling help to minimize nutrient loss. But nutrients can also be retained by saving the cooking liquid for soups, broths or as part of the dish, soaked up by crusty bread.
Greens stand up to assertive seasonings such as garlic, smoked pork, anchovies, and chilies. When small and tender, they can be used in salads as an accent to other greens. Also try them in soups and stews.
RED AND YELLOW BEET SALAD WITH ORANGE VINAIGRETTE top
This recipe was inspired by a dish I had at the deceased Symphony Cafe in New York City. The contrast with warm beets and goat or blue cheese is marvelous.
1 small bunch each of orange and red beets with greens attached
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup each, fresh orange juice and cider vinegar
2 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and freshly white pepper to taste
1 orange, peeled and thinly sliced
About 4 ounces crumbled low-fat goat or blue cheese
4 or 5 strands of fresh chives, roughly chopped
1) Clean and steam beets as described in the Preparation section above. As soon as beets are cool enough to handle, but still quite warm, remove skins and cut beets into 1/4-inch slices.
2) Meanwhile, combine shallots, cloves, orange juice, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.
3) Line a platter with beet greens. Layer beets, alternating orange and red beets. Pour dressing over. Garnish outside with orange slices. Sprinkle top with crumbled goat or blue cheese. Top with chives.
COLD BEET SOUP top
Unless you're Eastern European, the idea of beet soup - and cold beet soup at that - may not sound too appetizing. But this soup is easy to make, lovely to look at and very refreshing on a hot day.
2 bunches beets with green tops attached
4 teaspoons capers
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 small dill pickle, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon cider or wine vinegar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 small potato, cooked, peeled and cubed
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pint non-fat sour cream
1) Remove beets from greens, leaving about an inch of stem on each beet. Use greens for another dish. You should have about 1-1/2 pounds of beets. Wash beets thoroughly. Put 1 inch of water in a saucepan and add a steamer basket. Steam beets 30-45 minutes, depending on size, until a knife easily pierces them. Reserve steaming water.
2) Cool beets under running water and slip off the skins. Dice 1 cup of the beets and set aside with two teaspoons of the capers. Cut remaining beets into chunks and put into a food processor with remaining ingredients except sour cream and reserved capers and beets. Puree until smooth. Add a little of the cooking water if too thick.
3) Fold in reserved capers and diced beets and sour cream. Refrigerate several hours. Adjust seasoning as necessary.
Sam's Cooking Tip: Since canned beets are one of the better canned vegetables, you won't lose too much if you use them instead of fresh. I like to keep canned beets around for quick antipasto platters and salads as well.
BEET AND BEET GREENS GRATIN top
2 small bunches of beets with greens, about 3 pounds total
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 cups skim milk
3 large cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Butter flavored spray
1/2 cup flavored bread crumbs
1) Separate greens from beets, leaving about 1 inch of stems on the top of the beets. Steam as described in the Preparation section above. Save the cooking pot with the water. Cool and peel off skins.
2) Meanwhile, trim stalks from greens unless they are very tender. Stack greens and roll like a fat cigar. Cut crosswise into 1/2-inch wide ribbons. Wash thoroughly and drain. Add to the same pot that steamed the beets - with more water if needed - and steam over moderate heat just until wilted, about 7 minutes.
3) While greens steam, heat butter in a medium-size saucepan until it foams. Add flour and stir over moderate heat until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add milk, stirring constantly until the sauce comes to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add garlic, salt and pepper and stir as it thickens to the consistency of a light cream sauce. Turn off heat.
4)Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut beets into 1/2 inch cubes and add to saucepan with cream sauce. Squeeze out any excess moisture from the beet greens and add to the cream sauce, combining well. Season with more salt and pepper. Pour into a 2-quart gratin dish that has been sprayed with butter-flavored spray.
5) Sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake 25 minutes or until top browns nicely and cream sauce bubbles up.
RAW BEET SALAD WITH APPLES AND RAISINS top
To those who don’t even like the thought of cooked beets, eating raw beets may sound like punishment. But this salad may change your mind forever about beets, raw or cooked. Try it with cold, leftover roasted or grilled meats.
1/4 cup low or non-fat sour cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Small bunch beets, about 3/4 pound, trimmed and peeled
1 sweet and crisp apple such as a Fuji
2 tablespoons sultana raisins
1 tablespoon toasted hazelnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Salt and pepper to taste
A handful of watercress
1) In a small bowl, mix sour cream, mustard and vinegar. Set aside.
2) Grate beets by hand using the second-largest hole on a 4-sided grater or using the grating attachment on a food processor. Put in a mixing bowl.
3) Core apple but do not peel. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes and add to beets. Add raisins, hazelnuts and chives. Season with salt and pepper. Add sour cream dressing and mix well. Taste for seasoning.
4) To serve, put watercress at the end of a small oval platter and spoon out salad onto the platter. Serves 4.
Sam’s Cooking Tip: To remove hazelnut skins which can be bitter, put the toasted nuts in a tea towel and rub them together. The skins will slip off.