It is difficult to not go overboard when touting the greatness of beets. They will always make my list when playing the “if you were stranded on a deserted island and could only grow three vegetables, what would they be” game. This is a given, since beets provide a source of dark leafy greens and some starch from the root.
Beets also provide an assortment of nutrients. In particular, beets boast a high amount of folate in the root, as well as vitamins A and C, potassium and magnesium in the greens. This deep ruby root has a flavor unlike any other. Perhaps it could be described as carrot-like, but it is deeper, richer and earthier. It’s like the chocolate of the vegetable world.
If its nutritional appeal and delectable taste is not enough to get you excited, beets also have some more eccentric properties. For instance, during preparation of this special vegetable, your kitchen may be converted into a scene suitable for a top quality slasher film. Additionally, no other vegetable lends itself so nicely to the nutritional comedian: beets beg to be used in a range of cheesy puns (just beet it, beets me, a dead beet… I won’t go on). Beets are even special enough to take center stage in the novel, Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins. Nevertheless, this is a nutrition blog so let’s get back to its use as a food.
Beet season is traditionally from March until October, but they are available year-round.
Select beets that are small to medium in size without hairy roots because they will be more tender than others. The roots should also be firm with smooth skin.
Beets with the greens still attached indicate freshness and will give you two vegetables in one.
There are many varieties of beets beyond the classic dark red. Two variations I have seen available in stores are the Chioggia beet (candy striped beet) and the Golden beet. Both are worth trying and will provide some added flare to your usual beet routine.
For beet storage, cut the top greens off, leaving about an inch or two of stems on the root.
The roots can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks, while the greens are best used in less than a week.
The roots are most often boiled, but they can be roasted or eaten raw, as well.
Beets will maintain the most color and nutrient content if you wait until after they finish cooking to peel the skins.
To try them raw, try grating them into a salad. The greens and stems can be eaten raw or cooked, like any leafy green. In fact, Swiss chard is actually the same species as beets (Beta vulgaris).
Young beet sprouts have also become popular in microgreen blends. Below I included several recipes for adventures with beets. Simple Sautéed/Steamed Beets
Use the stalks from beets you buy at the store. If you are growing your own beets, you can harvest some of the greens as the roots mature.
1 bunch beet greens, chopped into strips (I make mine small, about ¼” but you can make them larger too)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 ½ tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
Heat oil on medium-low heat in a large pan, add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook until fragrant (about a minute). Add greens and 2 tbs water, stir to coat greens evenly, and cover pan with lid. Greens will gently steam (turn down heat if it gets too hot) and should be done in 4-6 minutes.
Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese, Walnuts, and Greens
Chef Jon Emanuel taught a version of this recipe in food science class. He recommends “Beet Haters” try this recipe.
16 oz fresh beets, roots and greens
1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
4 oz walnuts, chopped
1 ½ tbs lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Toss beets in oil and place on a baking sheet. Roast in oven until a fork easily pierces beets, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, remove stems from beet leaves. Briefly blanch the leaves by placing them into boiling water for a couple minutes, then into ice water to cool. Drain leaves. Once the roots are done, combine them with the greens and lemon juice. Sprinkle the goat cheese and walnuts on top and serve.
This soup recipe combines beets and carrots. It seems perfect for the cold weather:
This is a unique beet humus recipe that makes a very colorful snack:
This veggie burger recipe is perfect for busy schedules because it can be made ahead of time:
Finally, I wanted to include a recipe that used raw beets:
Zanteson L. (2010). When it comes to nutrition, the beet goes on. Environmental Nutrition, 33(10), 8. Retrieved from:
United States Department of Agriculture. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 26. Retrieved from http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2912?qlookup=11080&max=25&man=&lfacet=&new=1
Labensky, S. R. & Hause, A.M. (2003). On cooking: a textbook of culinary fundamentals. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education
Jule O'Dea is in her last semester of the Human Nutrition-Dietetics program at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Once she graduates she plans on entering community nutrition. She is especially interested in sustainable food systems. In her free time Jule likes to see live music, ski and fly fish.