Market Fresh: Beets
Available in a spectrum of colors, hearty beets are a beautiful and delicious addition to a dish.
Sweet, colorful and versatile, the humble beet has experienced a resurgence in popularity over the past few years. Top restaurateurs are beginning to discover what home cooks have known all along: Beets, whether roasted or boiled, pickled or puréed, add a distinctively sugary shock of color to any meal. This multifaceted root ranges in color from familiar crimson to light gold and creamy white; for a real beauty, try the Italian Chioggia beet, which reveals its pink and white stripes when sliced.
Eat them for your health
Beets are a good source of folate. Deep red varieties are also rich in anthocyanins, which may reduce cancer risk. For extra nutrition, don't neglect the beet greens, which contain beta-carotene, calcium and iron.
Selecting, preparing, and storing
When it comes to beets, bigger is not always better. Choose the tiny "babies" or the smaller adult variety when you can; anything over two inches or so in diameter can have an unpleasantly woody texture. Look for beets with smooth, unwrinkled skin and a firm, hard feel. Buy beet bunches with the green tops still attached: They should appear bright and not wilted. Remove greens from beets and store separately in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to one week.
To maximize nutrition, flavor and color, cook beets with their skin on. Remove tops and the long bottom root to within 1/2 inch of the beet "globe." Wash carefully and steam in a covered pot, or wrap in foil and bake at 350° F, for 45 to 90 minutes, depending on size. Try to choose beets of approximately the same size to keep cooking times even. When they're easily pierced with a knife, they're done.
Let them cool a bit, and use a paper towel to help you slide the skins off (and to prevent your hands from getting stained red). Cooked beets can be frozen, either sliced or diced. Steam the tops as you would any other green.
What to do with beets
Beets complement all courses, from soup to dessert. You can even cook them in advance and keep them refrigerated to save time.
- For traditional pickled beets, boil a vinegar/sugar mixture (use a cup of vinegar and 1/2 cup of sugar for each pound of beets). Add a pinch of cloves and allspice or chopped fresh dill, if desired. Add sliced, cooked beets to water and bring to a boil again. Serve warm, or pour the mixture into sterile canning jars and seal.
- Peel raw beets and grate them over the top of a salad for a nice color/texture addition.
- Purée 2 cups cooked beets with 2 tablespoons orange juice and a few pinches of spice (cinnamon, ginger and cloves work well) for a colorful and low-cal alternative to mashed potatoes.
- Roast a multicolored assortment of beets, then peel, slice and toss with a vinegar/oil dressing for a colorful standalone salad. If desired, steam the greens with a touch of lemon juice or vinegar and serve the salad on top of them.
- For a dense, moist, flavorful sweet bread, use beets instead of zucchini. Combine 2 cups peeled, grated raw beets with 2 tablespoons canola oil, 6 egg whites, 3/4 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup maple syrup. In a separate bowl, combine 3 cups flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Make a well in the dry ingredients and stir in beet mixture until just blended. Coat a 9-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray and bake at 350°F for 50 minutes to an hour, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
- To make an easy borscht, peel 6 medium-size beets and cook with 4 cups vegetable stock until tender. Remove beets from cooking liquid and slice into julienne strips or grate coarsely. Dissolve 2 tablespoons of sugar in 4 tablespoons of lemon juice. Add sugar mixture and prepared beets to stock; chill. Top each serving with nonfat yogurt or sour cream, if desired.
For more recipe suggestions, check out the links below: