When asked if there was a vegetable we didn’t like, we used to answer “beets.” Our dislike developed early in our gardening days. Easy-to-grow beets were one of the few things we raised in abundance in our cool, moist Pacific Northwest climate. We loved the greens, adding the early leaf thinnings to our salads and chopping big leaves, stems and all, for use in stir fries.
We loved the roots, too, early in the season. Because of their abundance we pickled maybe three or four dozen jars of beets and they were a great addition to cold hor d’oeuvres plates and holiday salads. But sometime after New Year’s, pickled beets began to lose their attraction.
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Maybe it was because with all those canned beets, we were eating them at most every dinner and often for lunch. I’d grudgingly eaten grandma’s canned beets as a kid. Maybe that’s why the thought of going through February and March eating beets like crazy seemed so dreary.
Then again, beets, as grandma told us, were good for us. High in folic acid, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium — not to mention fiber — beet greens revitalized us in the spring while the roots saw us through the winter.
Our old dislike for pickled beets doesn’t mean there aren’t good, varied pickling recipes out there that add ginger or other spices to the old sugar, white vinegar, and pickling salt formula. Not all pickled beets are created equally.
The rekindling of our interest in beet root was sparked in part by the rise in availability of heirloom beets and their interesting coloring, shapes, and flavors. We were very big on crisp, bright golden beets for a while. They don’t release as deeply colored a juice when cooked.
No, we haven’t given up on old favorite varieties like Detroit Dark Red. They’re heirlooms, too; ones that because of their popularity never fell from view. Beets’ rich color, color that spreads to everything, makes it appropriate in so many settings.
The other thing that got us championing beets again was vegetable roasting. Beets are unbelievably delicious after roasting and there’s a bunch of ways roasted beets can be used.
Then there’s raw beets. Some of the heirlooms are so colorful, like the concentric red-and-white Chioggia, that in tres fine dining palaces slices have been seen sporting caviar. They’re also, in their own way, as good as tomatoes when paired with rounds of extra creamy mozzarella.
Thick gratings of raw beets are a picturesque and tasty topping to any salad. And though they’re served in only the finest places, they’re easily and commonly grown in backyard gardens across the country. Imagine! A generation of kids growing up to like beets.
Like all root vegetables, beets are easily roasted in the oven. Scrub the beets well after removing — and saving — the tops. Leave the tail of the root at the other end attached. It will easily slide off with the skin after roasting.
Lay the beets in a covered baking dish or pan (or one that can be tightly sealed with aluminum foil), preferably by themselves, but also along with similar root vegetables, in a covered baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil.
Place the pan in an oven preheated to 400 degrees for 45 minutes before testing with a paring knife. The beet should be yielding, not soft but close, giving easily all the way to its core. (Adding water, say 1/8th inch, to the pan quickens the process; this is often referred to as “baking” beets.)
After cooling, the skin can easily be rubbed off.
If roasted with other vegetables, beets, depending on their size, will be among the last to achieve tenderness. Remove vegetables like peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and squash ahead of finishing beets (this also helps keep staining the other veggies with beet liquid).
For the least mess, individual beets can be rubbed in oil and each wrapped in aluminum foil then placed on a baking sheet. Foil wrapped beets (use an extra layer for this technique) can be roasted by burying them in the coals of a campfire. If done slowly and without flame, this method produces an excellent outdoor treat, firm and slightly smoky.
Beets can also be steamed after being chopped or sliced. Save the beet water and add it to rice when cooking, or use it to color cream cheese or cottage cheese for dips and salads.
Use roasted beets in recipes that call for them. Or slice them and heat in a pan with butter or olive oil. Put some walnuts in the pan or some blueberries or both along with the beets and sauté them until the oil is darkly colored and thick. Place a beet slice on a bed of arugula or other assertively flavored green and spoon over the juices. Now that’s fine dining.
Complete Beet Hot-and-Sweet Stir Fry
- 2-3 tablespoons of butter or 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 medium-sized roasted beets or 4 -5 large beets, quartered
- bunch beet greens (from beets above before roasting), stems chopped in 1/2-inch or smaller sections, leaves roughly chopped
- 1/2 chopped medium sweet onion
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons of chopped sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
- 1/4 cup vegetable stock
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Melt butter in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic and chopped beet stems and sauté over medium heat for one -two minutes. Then stir in greens and the vegetable stock and simmer covered for two-three minutes. Uncover, raise the heat and stir in the mustard and sun-dried tomatoes, if using. Allow the stock to simmer until liquid is slightly reduced then turn off heat. Add salt and pepper, sprinkle with parsley and serve over brown rice, pearl barley, quinoa, or a mix of grains.
Roasted Beet and Salmon Salad
- 2-6 ounce cans of wild salmon or 12-to-14 ounces of fresh salmon baked until firm
- 6 medium sized beets or 4 large beets, roasted and cut into fork-sized chunks
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons walnut or olive oil
- 3 tablespoons minced shallots
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Mizune, baby kale, arugula, or other spicy salad greens
- 2 teaspoons chopped chives
Whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, anchovy paste, and half the salt and pepper in a large bowl. Place the salad greens in a separate bowl and pour in half the oil-vinegar mixture and toss lightly. Add the salmon, beets, and minced shallots to the remaining oil-vinegar mixture and toss lightly. Spread greens on serving platter and heap beets and salmon on top. Sprinkle with chopped chives.
While beetroot has respectable amounts of vitamins and minerals, it’s the greens that pack a nutritional power punch. Related to chard, beet green can be used like chard in casseroles and stir fries as well as added raw to salads. Strip the leaves from their stems for fresh eating. Sauté stems as you would celery before wilting the leaves in stove-top recipes.
Vegetarian Beet Green Pie
- 3 cups cooked brown rice or combination brown rice and pearl barley
- 2 bunches or more of beet greens, cleaned and cut from stems
- stems of beet greens chopped
- 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil (sunflower is a good choice)
- pinch of nutmeg
- three cups jack, colby, or cheddar cheese, or a combination of cheeses (mozzarella makes it stringy and fun to eat)
In a ten inch cast-iron fry pan or other ovenproof skillet, sauté the onion and beet stems in the butter until the onion are translucent. While the vegetables are sautéing, whisk egg then stir into the rice. Turn off the heat and add the rice to the pan.
Mix the onion and beet stems into the rice. Gently flatten rice to make the cake, sprinkle with soy sauce and the nutmeg. Lay the beet greens two or three layers deep on top of the rice. Top with the cheese. Cover the pan (tin foil will do) and bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Uncover the pan and bake for ten more minutes or until cheese is bubbly and golden. Let cool 10 minutes after removal from the oven before slicing
Of course, the most popular use of beets is the Russian soup borscht. Here’s a super-healthy borscht recipe that’s thick with garden vegetables. Top with soy-derived or other non-dairy sour cream to make it vegan.
Veggie-Heavy Beet Borscht
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
- 1 medium-sized onion, chopped
- 1 green or red bell pepper chopped
- 4 cups shredded cabbage
- 1 cup shredded carrot
- 2 medium or one large beet, coarsely shredded
- 2 red potatoes, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
- 6-8 cups vegetable broth, preferably homemade
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dill leaf
- 1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika (smoked paprika may be substituted)
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- additional salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a Dutch oven or soup pot, sauté onion, garlic, and pepper in oil, stirring frequently. After three minutes, add cabbage beets, potatoes and continue to sauté for three more minutes. Add broth, tomato past, paprika, dill, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to slowly simmer until vegetables are soft, 20 – 30 minutes. Stir in red wine vinegar before serving. Soup may be chilled and served cold.