Beets — most people either love them or hate them. It’s amusing listening to other CSA members pick up beets with the consistent refrains of yippee or oh-no. They really are a polarizing vegetable. This is unfortunate, in my opinion, given their availability for much of the growing season and their ability to keep well beyond many other vegetables. They are one of the crops that does very well from early summer all the way through the season, so you might find them now at the markets starting, with the beautiful (edible) leaves still attached. The beets are smaller in early summer, with delicious, sweet flavor, so grab them up while you can!
Here you’ll find some tips on using and cooking with beets, plus a recipe for the all-time Jewish favorite, borscht.
Beets you’ll commonly find:
The most common beets are red beets, associated with a dark crimson color, sweet flavor and red-veined leaves
Golden beets are also common and are a bright yellow color. They have a more delicate flavor and won’t dye everything around them red. They will oxidize and turn black, so rub with a bit of an acidic water to prevent this from happening, or eat quickly once sliced.
The beautiful striped beets are chioggia beets. If you want to keep their red and white stripes, eat them raw. Once cooked, they will turn pink throughout.
If your beets have the greens still attached, cut them off immediately, leaving about 1-inch of stem attached to the beet. Use the greens! They are delicious, easy to cook and silly to throw out. Why not get the most out of your veggies, greens and all? Store the greens unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Use within a few days.
Store the beet roots with the tails (roots) still attached in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will keep for a few weeks.
Scrub beets well to remove any dirt. If recipe calls for raw or shredded beets, peel with a vegetable peeler. If roasting, following directions below; leave unpeeled as they are much easier to peel after cooking.
Cooking with Beets:
• Grate peeled, raw beets into salads. Make a grated vegetable salad with beets, carrots, cabbage, daikon radish and scallions. Toss with a dressing made from rice wine vinegar with a splash of toasted sesame oil. Garnish with sesame seeds. This is an excellent time to use the grater attachment on your food processor.
• Roast beets in a covered pan with 1/2 cup water at 400º F for one hour (more if larger), or wrap tightly in foil with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil and roast for one hour. Beets are ready when pierced easily with a sharp knife. Once cool enough to handle, slip off skin and chop to desire texture. Marinate in a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette and top with thinly sliced red onion, crumbled goat cheese and toasted walnuts on a bed of mixed greens for a quick and delicious lunch.
• Use shredded or cooked, pureed beets in a chocolate cake recipe. An excellent way to eat your veggies and keep your cake moist!
• Saute or steam greens, similar to any use for swiss chard, a relative. Delicious topped with golden raisins, pine nuts and a drizzle of high quality balsamic vinegar.
• If you own a juicer, beets make amazing juice, which is very cleansing for the blood. Juice one beet with carrots, apples and parsley for an afternoon snack. Save the pulp for that chocolate cake!
You might find this surprising, but unlike other red foods, beets don’t actually stain. Get them on your clothes and they’ll come right out. They might take a while to get out of your hands, and off of your cutting board, but no real harm there.
I grew up eating pickled beets and jarred borscht with my father. We both loved the acidic bright taste, although I had no idea what I was missing by eating them from the jar instead of the homemade variety. It took me years to find out. In my early 20s I finally decided to tackle borscht and bought a beautiful array of golden and red beets from the farmers market, only to have the golden beets oxidize and turn a frightening black. There went that soup. In culinary school I became the beet queen, determined to tackle this vegetable with roots in my Eastern European past.
Beets were one of the few vegetables (along with cabbage and potatoes, other great storage crops) that our Ashkenazi relatives had access to for much of the long winter, thanks to root cellars. While many traditional recipes call for beef with the borscht, I prefer the vegetarian variety. Borscht is also wonderful as it’s equally good hot or cold. This recipe might convert a beet-hater into a beet-lover with it’s mild and bright, lemony taste. I love topping it with Greek yogurt, a healthier alternative to the traditional sour cream, or if a vegan creamy topping is needed, with tofu sour cream (recipe follows).
Yield: 6-8 servings
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 carrot, shredded
1 cup cabbage, finely shredded
2 cups grated beets (about 2 medium-large beets) 8 cups water or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice, more to taste
optional: beet stems and greens from the beets, washed and chopped into bite sized pieces
1 small bunch fresh dill, chopped
1 cup Greek yogurt or tofu sour cream (see recipe below)
1) In a large pot, heat oil over medium-low heat.
2) Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt and saute until translucent, about 6-8 minutes.
3) Add carrots and saute 2 minutes.
4) Add cabbage and another 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir, sauteing until cabbage begins to wilt.
5) Add beets and the stock or water, then cover, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until the beets are tender.
6) Stir in the maple syrup and lemon juice and simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes.
7) If using the greens, add to soup and stir until the greens wilt, about 5 minutes.
8) Season with additional salt and lemon juice, if needed. Top with chopped dill and Greek yogurt or tofu sour cream.
Tofu Sour Cream
Yield: 2 cups
1 12.3 oz box silken tofu (firm)
3-4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1) Combine tofu, 3 tablespoons lemon juice and salt in food processor.
2) Process until smooth and creamy.
3) Taste and adjust seasonings, adding extra lemon juice or salt if desired.