May, 2014

All About Beets

Beets are a root vegetable with two edible parts, the root and the green leaves!

The basics: The beets we use in salads and other recipes are referred to as the garden been.  There are also sugar beets, which are used to make sugar or are fermented to produce alcohol, and fodder beets, which are used for animal feed.  Garden beets come in red, golden, white, and red-and-white striped (Chioggia) variations.

  • Chioggia- Though these look like ordinary beets from the outside, on the inside they have a distinct red-and-white striped flesh.  These heirloom Italian beets are highest on the sweetness scale.
  • Golden- Golden beets are carrot-colored and have the advantage of not bleeding once they’re cooked.  They are mild in flavor and not as sweet as either Chioggia or red beets.
  • White- White beets look much like turnips and are not quite as sweet as the red, striped, or golden varieties.

Good stuff: Beyond their incredible, earthy flavor, beets are also a nutritional powerhouse.  Rich in fiber, folic acid (important for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy heart), and potassium, they’re an excellent way to boost the nutrition in a salad or pasta dish.  And with just 75 calories a cup (150 g), they’re especially nice when you’re keeping an eye on calories.

Pick it: Choose firm beets with smooth skins.  If the beet greens are still attached, they should be crisp and bright green.

Store it: Beet greens should be removed from the bulb as soon as you get them home because the greens pull out moisture from the bulb.  Trim the beet stem with a knife or kitchen shears to about 1 inch from the top of the beet – any more and you’ll lose nutrient when you cook them.  Store the greens separately from the bulb.  Beets will keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

Use it: You can use the beet greens as well as the bulb, but the greens should be cooked within a day of purchasing them.  Beets can be boiled, but it’s the least flavorful way to cook them. They can be eaten raw if grated, and used in salads or as a garnish.  Roasting beets is my favorite method to cooking them.  Roasted beets will keep in the refrigerator for three days.  Once you’ve cooked them, you can do anything you want! Slice them thinly and give them a drizzle of good olive oil plus a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Or dice them and toss them with pasta and ricotta cheese.  Or cut them into wedges and serve over seasoned grains.

Credit: Eating in COLOR by Frances Largeman-Roth

Beet Basics

Once there was just the crimson beet, but now beets are also gold, orange, white, and candy striped. They can be perfectly round or long and slender, no bigger than the tip of your thumb or as big as your fist.  Beets are available most of the year but are best from summer through early winter.  When selecting a bunch of beets, if all the roots are equally fine, choose the bunch with the smallest leaves that are in the best condition (not yellowed or tattered).  The greens are an indication of freshness for the roots; if they look moist and fresh, the roots will be too.  If you are buying beets without leaves, avoid any that look dry, cracked, or shriveled.

Beets go especially well with lemon and orange, vinegar, any form of cream, onions, walnuts, parsley, caraway seeds, dill tarragon and mustard.  Allow about 5 oz per serving.

To prepare: Cut off the leaves, leaving 1-2 inches stem on the beets, and keep the rootlets, or tails, in place.  Pack the beets and leaves separately in perforated plastic vegetable bags and store in the refrigerator crisper.  Scrub beets well just before cooking but do not remove the skin.

In cooking, both roots and leaves bleed their colors into any dish they are in-except for golden beets, which hold their color.  Cooked beets are wonderful hot or cold.  Serve small beets whole; slice larger ones into sections or rounds.  Young, tender beets are delightful grated raw into a salad.  Beets of any size are delicious steamed, baked, and microwaved.

To boil: For every 1 pound prepared beets, bring 12 cups of water and salt to taste to a boil in the stockpot.  Add the beets, rapidly return the water to a boil, then cook, covered, until tender when pierced through with at thin skewer or knife tip.  Allow about 20 minutes for small and baby beets, 30-35 minutes for medium and 45 to 60 minutes for large beets.  Drain, then plunge into cold water to cool.  When cool enough to handle, slice off the stems and rootlets and slip off the skins.

To steam: Arrange the prepared beets in a single layer in a steaming basket over 1 to 2 inches boiling water.  Cover and steam until tender when pierced through with a thin skewer or knife tip, 25-30 minutes for small beets, 35-40 minutes for medium, and up to 60 minutes for large beets.  Add boiling water to the steamer as needed.

To microwave: Place 5 medium unpeeled beets in a 2 quart baking dish.  Add 1/4 cup stock or lightly salted water.  Cover and cook on high until tender when pierced with a thin skewer, 12 to 18 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.  Cool the cooker at once.

Credit: The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer



Test Kitchen Tip: Beating Beet Stains

When cut, beets can bleed onto your cutting board, making it easy to discolor other foods you might be chopping next.  Instead of stopping to wash the board between uses, we have a better idea: give the cutting board’s surface a light coat of nonstick cooking spray before chopping.  This thin coating added no discernible slickness under our knife and allowed us to quickly wipe the board clean with a paper towel before proceeding with our next task.

Credit: Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen.