“The Healthy Gourmet”

June 3, 2010

It’s funny how when you’re a kid some things are just yucky – and then they change!  Well, maybe it’s you that changes.  Anyway, I have distinct memories of beets being the “awful-est” thing imaginable when I was a child; but then long about college age they suddenly became wonderful treats on the salad bar.  Fortunately, as I have aged beets have continued their climb to near the top of my list of favorite things to eat.

And beets are a good thing to have as a favorite:  they are a root vegetable whose greens are delicious plus beet juice, the base for Russian borscht, is also tasty.  Beet roots are high in fiber, folic acid, potassium, calcium, Vitamin C, and antioxidants and are low in calories.  Beet greens, or tops, are high in Vitamin A and iron and actually have more potassium and calcium than the roots.

Beets are coming in, or will soon be coming in, fresh at local farmers markets and in grocery stores so it is a great time to look at ways to enjoy this versatile taste treat.  Pickled beets, made from the roots, are a Southern tradition and are great in salads or served as a condiment.  Fresh beet roots are my favorites, served either raw in a salad or roasted as a side dish or on top of a salad.  Beet greens can be sautéed or boiled.   I do not own a juicer so cannot offer you any insight into making and using beet juice – that’s something I will have to add to my repertoire!

Beet roots come in several colors – the traditional beet root is a deep red color but other varieties include golden, pink, white, and an Italian version that has pink and white rings.  I have used (and loved!) several red and gold varieties, and am going to search out the other kinds.  Generally beet roots are best when they are about 1.5 – 2.5 inches in diameter; larger than 3 inches usually nets a more tough and fibrous root that is not as good to eat.  So stay small when choosing beets!

As with all vegetables, it’s best to use beet roots as soon as you get them; however, that is not always possible so if you must store them, be sure to trim off the greens from the roots.  The greens will steal moisture from the roots when stored together, greatly reducing the flavor in the roots and making them shriveled.  Trim the greens down to about an inch above the roots, place the roots and the greens in separate perforated (or open) plastic bags in the refrigerator for about a week.

When ready to use, wash beet roots thoroughly, being careful to not bruise or break the roots open – breaking the roots allows the color and some nutrients to escape.  Make sure to clean all the soil off the greens (it hides in the leaves!) and discard any large stems or rusted leaves. If boiling or microwaving beet roots leave the skin on during cooking and when they are cool enough to handle the skin can be rubbed off.  Because beet roots have more sugar than starch they are great roasted; you may peel the beets or leave the skin on (your choice), then cut them into uniformly sized pieces, toss with some olive or canola oil and a bit of sea salt, place on a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 400 degrees, stirring every 10 minutes, until they are soft, about 20 – 25 minutes.

A simple but delicious way to cook the greens is to sautee some onion and garlic in olive oil in a pan until soft.  Tear the beet greens into 3 inch pieces and add to the pan, cooking until the greens are wilted and tender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and, if desired, add a dash of apple cider vinegar (or your favorite flavored vinegar or a dash of hot sauce).

And here’s a great way to enjoy fresh beet roots without turning on the stove or oven:

Fresh Beet Salad                              Serves 6               102 calories per serving

1 bunch fresh beet roots, about 4 beets

For the vinaigrette dressing:

3 T apple cider vinegar

3 T olive oil

1 T honey

Dash of salt and pepper

½ to 1 teaspoon fresh snipped herbs (your choice!)


Peel the beet roots and slice them into chunks that will fit the feeding tube of your food processor.  Use the shredding blade to shred the beet roots – you should have between 3 and 4 cups of shredded beets.

For the vinaigrette:  Whisk the remaining ingredients in a bowl and adjust to taste – but remember the beets will be sweet so keep that in mind as you tinker with the dressing.  Pour the vinaigrette dressing over the beets and stir or toss gently, place in a covered bowl and refrigerate until ready to use (will keep for about 2 days).

Enjoy healthy gourmet eating with beets!