Cook beets only until they just lose their rawness then combine them with meat, fish, grains, fruits, nuts, celeriac, fennel, or bitter greens.
Once tender, beets can be sliced or diced to use in salads, risottos, and vegetable side dishes.
Serve beets warm with a dressing of butter, lemon juice, and seasoning or dress them with orange juice topped with slivers of green onion or glazed with orange marmalade.
Beets—which also are called garden beets or beetroot—are a biennial vegetable grown as an annual. Their peak season is June through October. The first small “baby” beets will come to your farm market in late spring.
Beets can be round or cylindrical in shape and from 2 to 10 inches (5-25 cm) in diameter. The most flavorful beet roots will be about 2 to 3 inches (5-7.5 cm) in diameter.
The common garden beet is deep red colored. The golden beet has an orangey skin, and the albino beet is white. The Chioggia (pronounced kee-oh-ja) beet is the traditional Italian beet. It is named for the Chioggia region in Italy and has candy cane concentric rings of red and white. The flesh of each of these corresponds in color to the skin.
Beet leaves—which are edible–grow from the crown of the root on short stems to 15 inches (38 cm) high and 10 inches (25 cm) wide. Beet greens have a delicate flavor, not as strong as spinach.
Beets are descended from a wild seashore plant called the sea beet. The beet originated in prehistoric times along the shores of Southern Europe or North Africa. Over thousands of years it was cultivated and selected for its edible root.
Choose. Select beets that are firm with smooth skins and are heavy for their size. Avoid beets that are soft, flabby, rough, or shriveled.
Small and medium-sized beets will be tenderer than large beets. Beets that are large or long are likely to have a woody or fibrous texture.
To ensure even cooking, choose beets that are similar in size.
Beets should have about 2 inches (5 cm) of stem or greens attached. This will keep the root from “bleeding” or losing interior juices.
Store. Beets will keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Unwashed beets greens will keep for 3 to 5 days.
Beets will also keep in moist sand or damp sawdust at 32° (0°C) for up to 3 months. Beets can also be caned or pickled and stored for up to a year.
Prepare. Just before using, wash beets under running water to remove dirt or sand. Scrub beets delicately and be careful not to bruise them.
Serve. Beets can be eaten raw or cooked.
Raw beets add texture to salads. To serve beets raw, peel and then slice or grate them and season. Toss shredded raw beets with vinaigrette and chopped parsley. Serve shredded raw beets with shredded raw celeriac adding a dressing made with yogurt.
Cooking. Cook beets whole without peeling or bruising.
• Roast beets wrapped in foil and placed in a baking dish at 350-400°F (180-200ºC) for 1 to 2 hours or until tender. Coat the beets with butter or cooking oil and seasoning before wrapping them in foil.
• Bake beets in a dish with a tight-fitting lid and 4 to 5 tablespoons of water. Place a double layer of foil over the dish before covering and then bake in a low oven for 2 to 3 hours or until tender. Baking beets will preserve their flavor and enhance their color.
• Simmer whole small, unpeeled beets in an uncovered container for 20 to 40 minutes or until fork tender. Large beets may have to cook as long as 3 hours. Rub the beets gently under running water to peel them after cooking.
• Boil beets in a covered saucepan in water for 30 to 60 minutes depending upon their size. Add salt only at the end of cooking, otherwise the beets will turn pale.
• Steam beets in a steamer over boiling water; cook until tender about 30 to 45 minutes.
You can pierce a beet with a fork to check doneness, but this may cause the beet to bleed.
Another way to know if a beet is ready is to hold it under a thin stream of running water. If the peel detaches itself, the beet is done.
Serve. Once beets have been cooked, you can peel them while still warm.
Serve cooked beets warm or cold peeled, sliced, and served with oil and lemon or with vinaigrette. Top beets with plain or flavored butter or margarine, lemon juice, vinegar, vinaigrette dressing, sour cream, or plain yogurt.
Season beets with salt, pepper, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, savory, bay leaf, anise, caraway, clove, dill, ginger, mustard, or thyme.
Beet greens and thinnings can be eaten raw in salads or mesclun. Beet greens can be cooked much like spinach.
Flavor partners. Beets go well with basil, goat cheese, herring, orange, potatoes, slow-cooked beef or ham, sour cream, spinach, tarragon, vinegar, and yogurt.
Cooked beets can be matched with strong flavors: biting (horseradish, chili, ginger, mustard greens), bitter (chicories, water cress), acid (balsamic or fruit vinegars, citrus fruits), spicy (Sichuan pepper, curry, caraway), salt (olives, caper, anchovies).
Nutrition. Beets contain vitamins A and C and also potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and protein. There are about 35 to 40 calories in ½ cup of beetroot.
Beets can be eaten to relieve headaches and to combat colds and anemia.
Kitchen note. Beats contain betacyanin a pigment that causes their red color. When beets are bruised or cut they can release or “bleed” their red juice. Lemon juice can be used to remove beet juice stains from the hands.
Beets facts and trivia. The Romans used beets mostly for their leaves not roots. By the Middle Ages beets were known as “Roman beets” in Northern Europe. By the sixteenth century Northern the Germans and English began to use beets as a vegetable.
The beet is a close relative of the Swiss chard. Beets have the highest sugar content of any vegetable.
The botanical name of beets is Beta vulgaris.