A few years ago, we were heading over to a dear friend’s house in late autumn. It was a potluck; we were to bring something. I’d already started heading down this path of good food – real food – whole food. I wanted to cook something — really cook something, something fresh and seasonal and organic and full of goodness. There was only one glitch: at that time, we had no money. Zilch. had newly returned from Peace Corps, we’d just bought our first house, I had no job, I was pregnant. We had zilch.
Actually, we had less than zilch; we were falling a little behind every day.
I went to the local co-op and scoured the produce section for a great deal. And I found one: a sack of local organic beets — a plastic bag filled with dark, muddy orbs. I don’t remember the price-per-pound, but I remember that it was about half of anything else on the shelves.
Beets! I would make beets! It would be an adventure! I had no experience with beets, mind you, save for the cold, fresh-from-a-can variety. But I was up for a challenge: beets it would be. I scoured cookbooks for a beet recipe suitable for a novice like myself. I found one — it involved walnuts, I remember, and herbs, and copious amounts of olive oil. I trimmed, I boiled, I peeled, I chopped, I measured, I chopped some more. When I was finished, I was so proud.
Beets! I had made beets! I assembled them in a dish, and brought them proudly. Beets! My organic beets! The first I ever prepared.
“World?” I wanted to say. “Check. Me. Out.”
When I arrived at the dinner, I pulled the foil off of the beets, revealing my ruby red masterpiece, and the hostess giggled. “Beets,” she said with curiousity, and did I detect the slightest hint of derision? “Well, I’ll bet no one else will bring those.”
I ate the beets that night. Maybe one or two others ate the beets. But most folks bypassed them on the way to the seven layer taco dip.
Well, friends, it was their loss, and the loss was a mighty one.
Beets are great in so many ways. They’re wildly healthful, to start. Their rich, crimson color comes from the pigment betacyanin, which also happens to be powerful cancer-fighting agent. Several studies suggest that beets are particularly helpful in preventing and fighting colon cancer; beet juice also appears to inhibit mutations in stomach cancer. They protect against inflammation (associated with heart disease, diabetes, depression, allergies, and more), and they help fight birth defects. They are chock full o’ health boosting vitamins A and C, iron, and other minerals, carotenoids, and dietary fiber. It is a natural cleanser that can help clean toxins from your body. Some claim they can even help with non-worrisome stuff, like dandruff.
I mean, seriously. These things are ruby red jewels of goodness.
They’re also delicious, with a full, sweet flavor and a dense, meaty texture.
And? They turn your pee pink.
I’ve been working with beets for a few years now. My attempts have ranged from the complicated to the mundane. In the end, I think simple is best: oven-roasted, whole, in foil. Yes, foil. I’m not sure where I read that first — it was either my fairy godmother Barbara Kafka, or my boyfriend Mark Bittman — but they were 100% correct. When roasted in foil, the flavor and the color, both already vibrant, become intense.
Like beets on crack, sort of. But in a good way.
It’s very simple: wash the dirt off of the outside of your beets, and trim down to just above the globe. Save those leaves; you can use the leaves just like Swiss chard.
Wrap them up like the gift that they are:
When you get a bunch of them together, they look like Hershey’s kisses. If you ask me, though, they’re better:
Cook them in a pre-heated 400-degree oven until tender. How much time, you ask? It depends on the size of your beets. Try 45 minutes. You should be able to slice them easily with a knife.
And the skins will slip right off. No peeling necessary. I pinky swear it.
When you’re done, slice them up, and you will see that they are stunningly beautiful, with rich striations of color:
And what to do with them at this point?
You can mix them with apples and/or oranges, and then drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Delish.
You can mix them with a little goat cheese, walnuts, then drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. A flavor punch.
You can pour a little orange juice and lemon juice on them, and enjoy them. Simple, easy, lovely.
You can add them to salads, then give that salad a name, like “Royal Ruby Jewel Princess Salad,” and convince a six-year-old to eat it with gusto. If your child is a little more macabre, try a name like “Blood sport salad.”
Or you can simply eat them like a peach. Which I have been known to do. Either way, they will disappear, because they are oh so tasty.
By the way, rumors of stained fingers while working with beets are greatly exaggerated. Any staining of fingers doesn’t last long. You may, however, want to protect your counters and cutting boards.