Beets like potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and onions are root vegetables that grow underground. Fall and winter is a great time to add beets to your family’s menu as the vitamin C-rich vegetable is heartier than the fragile vegetables of the warmer months. It’s not that beets and other root vegetables aren’t available year-round, but with the lighter, more delicate vegetables peaking during spring and summer, root vegetables take a backup position. But they don’t have to.
Beets boast an impressive amount of nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants. They provide an excellent source of folates and are a good source of potassium. Besides the good stuff that you don’t necessarily taste, beets have other positives: They’re sweeter than carrots, and their mild, earthy flavor pairs well with vinegar, citrus, cheese, and nuts.
The dense flesh of the beet varies in color from white through shades of yellow and red, the most popular being the garnet red. Funny thing, though all beets taste the same. Since there’s no difference in flavor, choose the color for aesthetics only. The other colors cost more, simply because they are less well known, just like the assorted color palette of sweet bell peppers. Aside from the slightly higher price, the nice thing about using yellow or white beets is that your hands and cutting board can stay clean. But here’s a hint for using the red beets peel them after cooking. This way, the color doesn’t bleed out and, an added bonus, such a technique concentrates the flavor.
In some cooking situations, you definitely don’t want to use the red beet. For instance, a roasted vegetable medley made up of carrots, rutabaga, potatoes, and parsnips should be combined with only the white or yellow variety. While the flavor combo would be great, the red beet bleeds its color and dominates the lighter hues otherwise captured in this display of autumnal color.
On the other hand, red beets appropriately put the red in our not-so-hot horseradish. Beets are a natural coloring for many foods, including candy. And coloring your home-made pasta with beet juice to symbolize a red-hot passion might show just how much you love someone. If coloring your food really excites you, combine three parts white potatoes with one part red beets. Imagine the potatoes as the canvas, while the beets do the painting. If you’re looking for a masterpiece, increase the ratio to 50:50 for more beet color and flavor.
The most common methods of preparation are roasting or boiling. Snip off the greens (more on greens later) and boil the beets in water, just like potatoes. For roasting, snip off the long, thin root, wash the beets, and roast them in the oven until fork tender. Keep the ends on when boiling, though. I prefer to roast beets, since boiling them robs them of color and nutrients. Once they’re done, use a knife to score them down the side and peel the inedible skin away. Another peeling method is to put the beets into a cloth or paper towel to twist the skin off.
Here are a number of versatile and exciting things to do with beets:
I make a brisket that family members love to prepare and call their own. You can too: Immerse the meat into a deep tray of apple cider, molasses, and sliced onions. Add cubed beets for amazing depth of color and flavor.
The value of the beet does not end with the vegetable. The beet’s long and leafy greens will allow you to get more bang for your buck when you cook them fresh.
Before preparing beets, remove the greens and reserve. They tend to hold a good portion of the sandy soil they were grown in, so wash in several batches of fresh, cool water. Drain well and when stored in paper toweling, the greens will keep up to one week in the refrigerator. Cutting off the greens not only provides a second side dish, it also helps preserve the beet’s rich red color. Since the greens leach moisture from the bulb, they should be removed as soon as you get them home, leaving about one inch attached to the bulb to prevent nutrient and color loss during cooking.
Prepare beet greens as you would other hearty green vegetables, such as spinach, escarole, or collard greens. An easy method is to sauté them in a bit of olive oil and browned garlic. They can be eaten alone or added to soup. Or, for a quick and delicious hors d’oeuvre, place cooked beet greens on top of toasted crostini.
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