Many people dislike beets and say that it's the only vegetable they won't eat. I believe that their experience with beets was unpleasant because they've probably only experienced canned beetscertainly not a great way to learn to love these tasty roots.
I think that beets have gotten a bad rap. Beets are beautiful and bring color to the plate. Many varieties can now be found at the grocery store and at farmer's markets. Yes, there are the traditional red beets. But also look for golden beets and those that are striped red and white, called Chioggia beets, which are particularly pretty and sweet. I prefer to buy smaller beets as they are more tender and are less likely to have a bitter undertone.
Get Out Your Smock
One warning: Golden beets and Chioggias don't bleed much at all, but red beets will color everything they come into contact with, including your hands and clothing. If you mix red with gold beets they will stain them with their red pigment. Red beets also color your cutting surfaces so avoid wood and use a plastic board that can be easily washed.
Getting to Know Beets
There are two methods for cooking beets. Boiling is the fastest way, but many think that beets lose some of their earthy intensity that way. However, if you are just starting to get to know beets, this may be the easiest way to learn to love them. To prepare them, simply wash away excess dirt and cut off most of the leaves. If they are crisp and in good condition you can cook them separately as you'd cook chard or any other leafy green. Be sure to leave an inch of stem attached to each beet so it doesn't bleed its color into the water.
Put beets in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Add a dash of salt and bring to a boil. Simmer the beets, covered, until tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Drain partially, add cool water to the pot and peel the beets while they are warm but not hot. It may be easiest to peel them under running water.
For those who prefer a more intense beet taste, baking is better. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place beets in a pan, add about an inch of water, cover the pan very tightly with foil and bake until tender, about an hour, maybe longer. When the skin on the beets is wrinkled and pulls away easily, the beets are ready to be peeled. Make sure to let them cool before peeling.
Cooking time for beets will vary according to the size of the beets, so start checking small beets after 20 minutes and large beets after 30 minutes. A thin metal skewer or small, sharp knife will penetrate beets easily when they are done. Slice or quarter the beets depending upon their size, and how you plan to serve them.
The Dependable Beet
Beets are a convenient vegetable to have on hand. There's nothing last minute about them. Uncooked they keep for days in the refrigerator. After cooking beets you can wait for many hours before using them; they even keep a day or two in the refrigerator.
Beets are also versatile as they can be served hot or cold. If this is your first adventure with beets, try combining them with vegetables that you like or are familiar with, such as carrots, potatoes and green beans. Flavors that work well with beets are mint, tarragon, citrus, ginger, horseradish and sweet and sour medleys of honey or sugar with a bit of vinegar.
Try Joyce's recipes for:
Beet, New Potato and Green Bean Salad with Salsa Verde
Beets with Honey, Mustard and Black Pepper
Beet, Radicchio, Mint and Orange Salad with Warm Balsamic Vinnaigrette
Beet, Orange, Onion and Olive Salad