Beets seem to strike two types of reactions in people; they either love them, waxing poetic, or dislike them with a passion usually reserved for people who steal your parking space at the mall. I am firmly in the “love” camp, though I came late to the party in my affection for beets. People who say they don’t like beets, when pressed, usually admit to a long rooted childhood aversion to canned, over-cooked, or pickled beets and often haven’t tried them again as adults.
My theory is that like many other foods, beets, if properly prepared, are almost impossible to dislike. If your only experience with fish as a child was eating school cafeteria fish sticks, then I’m not surprised if you say you don’t like fish. But let me give you a spectacular piece of grilled wild salmon and I promise to convert you. The same holds true for beets. If as a child you were forced to eat canned beets dumped on a salad and you think it has scarred you forever, then allow me show you what sweetness comes from roasting fresh beets in the oven.
Beets come in many colors and stripes, literally. There are red beets, of course, and golden beets, purple beets, white beets, and even “candy cane” striped beets. Color has little impact on flavor; most colors of beets taste similar, with a sweet and somewhat earthy flavor. In the British colonies, beets are called “beetroot” and when I traveled to Australia and New Zealand I discovered that a slice of cooked beetroot is a common garnish on hamburgers, like the pickle is in the US.
Beets are a root vegetable with the bulb growing underground and edible green leaves above. If you buy fresh beets from the farmer’s market with the greens attached, look for the greens to be crisp and fresh and the bulb to be firm, with smooth, uncut skin. Cut the greens off about an inch from the beet as soon as you get home; if left attached, the greens will draw moisture from the beet. Wash the beet tops, and sauté them as you would fresh spinach or Swiss chard (which is related to beets). Beet greens aren’t as bitter as some other greens like escarole and they add nice color and texture if mixed in with other greens. If you grow beets in a home garden, you can trim off the larger outer leaves for eating while the beet continues to grow underground.
The deep garnet color of the common beet has long been used as a vegetable dye. For this reason, when cooking red beets it’s a very good idea to not only wear an apron to protect your clothes, but latex gloves will keep your hands from becoming stained. The dark pigments which give beets their color are thought to be a powerful antioxidant and they’re high in vitamins A and C, folate and fiber. Beets are also a major source of sugar in the US. Check the bag of white sugar in your pantry. If it does not say “cane sugar” then it’s likely derived from beets.
Beets can be cooked many ways; boiled, steamed, eaten raw, pickled, even sliced and fried into chips, but roasting whole is one of the best ways to prepare them because it concentrates the beet’s natural sugar instead of allowing it to escape as other cooking methods can. If you think you’re not a fan of beets, give the roasting method a chance. I’m confident it will change your mind. Right now, corn, cucumbers and basil are growing in many summer gardens so grab some beets and try this fresh salad.
Which camp are you in with beets? Wax poetic or passionate dislike?
Cooking and Preparation Tips:
- Cook beets whole and unpeeled to keep their color.
- Cook different colors separately to maintain their color.
- Cook until just tender to maintain flavor and nutrients
- Wear gloves and an apron when cleaning and cutting cooked beets.
- Add cooked and cut beets to salads and other dishes just before serving so their colors do not bleed into the other ingredients.