Can’t Beet It: The easiest, tastiest way to cook beets

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.

But what about those skins, you ask? Simple. Just run unwrap and run under some cold water..

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 them it with fennel and orange. Or put them into a velvety chocolate cake. Or make beet pesto.

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.

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19 Responses to “Can’t Beet It: The easiest, tastiest way to cook beets”

  1. 1 Kai July 30, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    You’ve turned me on to swiss chard, you’ve made me find my love of squash, you’ve even made me love brussels sprouts, but you just will NEVER get me to enjoy beets.

    Your blood salad looks lovely though and the name ROCKS!

  2. 2 laura July 30, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    Dude… I LOVE beets and the all the goodness they contain! Now if you could just convince my husband that fresh beets are unlike any other canned grossness, that would be great. Maybe then, he will stop sabbotaging my pots of boiling ruby jems!

  3. 3 Jenn July 30, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Thank you! I have a bunch from the CSA I’ve been wondering how to use.

  4. 4 Frances July 30, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    If you get all wigged out, like I do, about running the water while you’re peeling the beets (and if they’re hot because you’re too impatient to wait for them to cool a little), just dunk them in a bowl of cold water and peel them while they’re submerged. Just as easy. Then, if you’re a real water scrooge, dump the beet-y water on your plants.

    That’s what I do, at least.

  5. 5 nono July 30, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I’ve never had a beet in the house….but after reading this, I’m going to give it a try. I’m going for the goat cheese and walnut option.

    However, I think I will have the same challenge as Laura commented…the husband factor. Maybe he’ll surprise me.

  6. 6 Catherine July 30, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    I love, love, love beets. We do something similar but first quarter them and then put them in foil pockets with oil and herbs and toss them on the grill for about 45 minutes.

    I have to go now, I think I have beets in my fridge.

  7. 7 Zip n Tizzy July 31, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Yumm! Just steamed a bunch today… planning to make a salad with them tomorrow. I hide the greens in everything…
    Puree the golden beets, and hide them in eggs. Your kids won’t know the difference.
    Thank you for the cooking tip… I like the idea of the skins falling right off!

  8. 8 kate July 31, 2008 at 8:41 am

    yum! beets! my friend marianna brews beer at home, and she made a delectable beet stout that was crimson as blood. we drank it all with gusto. the chocolate cake option sounds interesting…beets are great blended into hummus too.

  9. 9 kate July 31, 2008 at 8:41 am

    oh, and i would’ve eaten your beets at the potluck.

  10. 10 Ali B. July 31, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    I’m glad to know there are some folks who would have eaten my beets. And I love the tips – the water-saving tip, the egg-disguising tips, the grilling, the hummus…and the beer!

    Kate, honey? If Marianna brews that beer again, I might just show up at her door.

    No, I’m serious.

  11. 11 pnuts mama July 31, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    we like ‘em roasted w/ olive oil (you really have to invest in the good stuff, IMO) some sea salt and pepper (not too much pepper), maybe some garlic if i feel like chopping it…

    it’s how we do lots of our root veggies in the fall/winter, too, and you just can’t beat it.

    i am totally trying that goat cheese/walnut idea tonight- oh ali, just when i think you can’t give anymore, you do! thanks!

  12. 12 MamaBird/SurelyYouNest August 1, 2008 at 1:15 am

    Oh, I heart beets — beet stout?! Mmmmm. I usually throw em in the slow cooker cause it’s much easier but I must try your roasting business. My boy? Loves to pull them out of the garden and crunch em down (I can barely wash them with the hose) so I am now a fan of the raw beet to boot. Lovely post!

  13. 13 Anna August 2, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    I, too, love beets, and freshly made are tons better than anything out of a can. Our CSA box seems to always include some beets during the winter, but other times of the year as well, in a number of varieties, crimson to golden, striped & solid. I always make extra to keep in the fridge for an easy salad component. I think the earthiness of beets especially complements blue cheeses, chevre, walnuts and pecans, fennel, and orange citrus (especially kumquats!).

    I like to pickle beets, too, with peeled hard boiled eggs, especially in the spring. The beet juice stains the eggs a beautiful garnet color (gradually fding from pink to white inside, which contrasts beautifully with the golden-orange yolks) and beet pickled eggs make the most attractive egg slices for garnishes or eating out of hand with a schmear or two of homemade mayo and bits of coarse sea salt. Pickled beets and eggs are an easy old Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish) recipe that I learned from my mother (who used canned beets, so it was a long time before I learned to appreciate the beet part), who learned it from her mother, who learned it from her mother in teh middle of nowhere in central western PA …

  14. 14 flynnbernard August 2, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    Oh Ali, you did it again! You got me to try a new food. And you got me to love it! How do you work this magic?

    I was always convinced that I *hated* beets. Why? Who knows? Maybe it’s because the only beets I encountered growing up were the ones that came from a can. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to try them again. Real ones this time. Straight from the ground and delivered to me by way of a sweet little farm in Vermont. I now have a new favorite food. How fabulous! Thank you, Ali. As always, you rock!

  15. 15 TWBernard August 4, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    If your child is a little more macabre, try a name like “Blood sport salad.”

    Can’t speak for my child, but I would totally eat something called “Blood Sport Salad.”

    You can mix them with apples and/or oranges, and then drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Delish.

    Why stop with apples and oranges? I mixed the leftover roasted beet from The Lovely Wife’s beet epiphany with apple, orange, peach, and strawberry, and it was good. Instead of the lemon and olive oil, I drizzled a (store brand craptacular) balsamic reduction over the salad. The slight harshness of the (sbc)br actually matched well with the earthy sweetness of the roasted beet.

  16. 16 cleanerplateclub August 4, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    Okay, I so totally adore all you beet adorers…perhaps especially flynnbernard (hello, Jen!) for having her beet epiphany (Kai, are you still reading???). And TWBernard, way to work her beets with the peach and strawberry.

    And I love all the beet suggestions, though I’m still not sure I can wrap my head around pickled beets and eggs. I’d try ‘em, though. I would. Because I pretty much trust Anna on anything food-related. And not simply because she uses the word “schmear.”

  17. 18 emmy June 27, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    well i dont know what to do!! so many choices well i have tiny beets and i have no idea wgat to do w/ them!!!!

  1. 1 Ask Jen: Holistic Intuitive Healing Advice » Eat Local. Eat Organic. Eat Very Well. Trackback on August 6, 2008 at 8:45 pm
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