If you think you don’t like beets, then let this be the year to give them another chance. Remember, our taste buds change over time, so maybe now you’ll find this vegetable you once sent into exile more appealing. That’s how it went for me. I had little interest in beets as a child, but a few years ago I tried fresh-from-the-garden boiled beets again — with a bit of butter on them — and found they had a remarkably similar taste to fresh sweet corn. (Just try it.) Although beets are typically a deep red color, you can also find golden beets. Research suggests the pigments that give beets their bold colors may also be the source of their health benefits, from helping to fight cancer and arthritis to preventing neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases. Beets and beet juice have also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve exercise performance.
The best local beets are harvested in early spring, so don’t hesitate to snatch up the first beets of the season when you spot them at the farmer’s market. Choose small to medium sized beets, which are usually sweeter and more tender than the larger ones. Beets should be firm and heavy for their size. If the tops are still attached, make sure they are bright and fresh. Buying the whole beet plant is essentially a two-for-one deal since the tops are a flavorful dish in their own right.
Store beet roots in a plastic bag in the fridge for a week or more, but keep in mind that smaller beets tend to shrivel more easily. The smaller the beets, the sooner you should use them. If you’ve bought beets with their tops still on, cut the tops off once you get home, leaving about an inch of stem attached to the root. Removing the tops prevents the greens from sucking moisture away from their roots. Use the beet tops right away if you can since they don’t keep for more than a few days.
Using Beet Tops
Wash beet greens thoroughly, one leaf at a time to make sure you get all the sand and dirt off. Shake them gently to remove most of the water. Chop coarsely and sauté the beet tops with garlic in a little bit of olive oil, or add them to just about any soup, stew, or even your spaghetti sauce. They are a welcome addition to a frittata or egg bake as well.
Cooking Beet Root
To steam beets, peel and cut them into ½-inch pieces. Place them in a steamer basket set into a saucepan of simmering water. Cover and steam for 15 to 20 minutes or until beets are tender and easily pierced with the tip of a knife.
Boiling beets is equally easy. Peel and cut beets into 1-inch pieces. Put about an inch and a half of water into a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Add beets, return to a boil, and then reduce heat. Simmer beets until tender, stirring occasionally, for about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain.
Beet and Apple Salad
I learned how to make this simple salad in Mongolia. I’d never had anything like it before, and was pleasantly surprised by the sweet and earthy combination of apples and beets. It’s pretty too — a bright fuschia. The last time I made this, I tossed in a bit of candied ginger, which adds a warm, sweet note.
3 medium to large beets (3-inch beets)
1-2 Gala apples
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon finely diced candied ginger
Steam or boil beets just until tender. Drain and cool. Shred beets. You should have 2 to 2½ cups. Peel, core and shred the apple. Mix shredded ingredients with mayonnaise and diced ginger. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend.
By Anita Dualeh