Roast them, sauté them, grill them, pickle them, steam them…from root to stem, it’s all good!
Open just about any New England menu in the Autumn and you’ll find beets! These colorful vegetables are especially loved by chefs because they are one of the easiest to use “root to stem” every part of them edible, even the skin, and they pair well with lots of other ingredients from goat cheese and nuts to orange and oregano.
My husband loves beets, and I must say that they add vibrancy and rainbow appeal to any dinner. However, not every loves these little gems at least not the way we were served them at school lunch.
Are they rude?
When I was a child, we had beets. Often. They grow well in the Northeast, and keep through winter, so Mom served them up often. I remember telling her that they were a rude vegetable because they were always bleeding into everything else, especially my mashed potatoes, and I didn’t like anything running into my favorite part of the plate!
The dark red beets can make a mess, but we also have golden beets and the luscious Italian heirloom “Chioggia,” my personal beet of choice, and these make a little less mess. They are small and sweet, with a candy-striped pattern that is lovely to behold. I first grew them in my garden decades ago, and they became a staple.
Beets are a nutritional powerhouse. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, they are also a great source of antioxidants with detoxification, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory elements. That’s a lot rolled into a humble little vegetable.
One of my favorite ways to prepare beets is to roast them. This brings out even more of the natural sugars and heightens that sweet flavor. My mother would peel beets, but I do not unless they are really big and tough; the roasting will soften the skins. Peeling beets is also a pretty messy task, back to that whole rude aspect of beets!
The smaller you cut the beets, the quicker they will roast, and the quicker they roast, the less nutrients they lose in the cooking process. I prefer slicing them to cutting them in chunks, but do it your way!
Roasted Beet Slices with Lemon
8 beets, mix of colors if possible
Juice and zest of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Scrub the beets and cut off the hairy root end and stem top. Slice beets into 1/2 slices. Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of a shallow baking pan and place beets in a single layer. Drizzle with a bit move olive oil and bake in the middle rack for about 12 minutes. Don’t overcook!
Alternately, you can cut the beets in chunks, but they will probably take a few more minutes. If you roast the beets whole, plan on about 30 minutes.
Place the beets in a serving dish and top with a little butter, the lemon juice, and the zest. You can also use a favorite vinegar rather than the lemon juice, or, while still warm, dot with a tangy goat cheese.
The women of my family before me boiled beets, but steaming is just as quick and easy, and the best way (other than eating raw) to preserve the nutrients in your beets. Since the beet greens themselves are absolutely delicious, look for beets that have tops still attached. If your beets are very small, you can steam the whole thing from root to leaf tip all at the same time. If larger, cut the beets apart from the greens, slice the beets, and steam them first, adding the greens at the end.
The greens were always my mother’s favorite, and whether beet or turnip greens, spinach, or Swiss chard, she always sprinkled liberally with a vinegar. If I don’t put vinegar on greens, I don’t think they taste right!
Steamed Beets and Balsamic
1 bunch of beets, the smaller the better
Place your beets in steamer basket curling the greens around the top. Cover and steam for 8-10 minutes. If your beets are large, cut them into 1/4-inch slice and place in the steamer with the greens nestled on top.
Plate, dot with butter, and sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and a literal dose of sea salt. You can use any favorite vinegar: sherry, cider, champagne, red wine…
By September, my mother had already pickled a lot of stuff! One thing I don’t remember her pickling was beets, although I’ve probably just erased that from my memory. The beautiful Italian heirloom Chioggia beet are really pretty in the jar and on the plate, and make for a mild beet flavor. You can add whatever spices you like to this, or even a nice thick slice of orange zest.
Quick Pickled Chioggia Beets
These pickles are meant for refrigerator storage. You can also process them in a hot water bath for 20 minutes using safe canning methods. Slicing the beets is easy work if you have a mandolin, but, if not, it is still a pretty fast task.
Chioggia beets sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup red-wine vinegar
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. each fennel and mustard seeds
1 tsp. black peppercorns
Slice enough beets to fill two one-cup canning jars. Tuck a bay leaf and cinnamon stick in each jar. This is a nice place for a star anise as well. Place all the brine ingredients except bay and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
Fill the jars with the brine and let cool. Cover and refrigerate.
Even Quicker Pickled Beets
This is even quicker, and makes use of leftover beets.
Slice leftover beets Place in a jar or bowl and cover with a few slices of purple onion and your favorite vinaigrette. Let sit in the refrigerator for a day. That’s it!
Grilled beets are tender and quite sweet, with a beautiful smoky flavor.
Two methods, whole or sliced.
To grill them whole, scrub well, slather with olive oil, and place on indirect heat, turning a few times to cook evenly, until fork tender. Depending on the size, this should take between 30 – 35 minutes.
‘Camping’ beets: Scrub beets, quarter them and place on a large sheet of aluminum foil. I line mine with parchment paper for extra protection. Dot with butter, salt, and pepper, and a bit of orange zest. Fold the top down tightly, and seal the ends. Cook over indirect campfire for about a half hour. If you don’t have a grate, nestle them along the side of the fire.
They will be warm and tasty for quite some time after removing from the heat.
© Copyright 2018 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read