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ROASTED BEETS

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To my surprise, I’ve found that many people hate beets.

This is not for them.

But if you love beets, go beyond the cans and pick up some fresh ones.  They can be boiled, but roasting is less messy and less prone to staining everything in sight. Roasting is an easy method that evaporates some of the natural moisture, thereby intensifying their color, sweetness and earthy, mineral nature. If you’re on the fence about beets, this could tip you in their favor. Don’t love them for their crazy magenta personality alone – they are high in vitamin C, iron, and magnesium, and are a very good source of fiber, folate, potassium and manganese. (That’s just the bulbous roots. The greens are crazy high in nutritional value too, but that will be another post.)  And beets aren’t just red – white, gold, and candy-striped beets are also available, and look wildly punky and Ballerina-Barbie combined on the same platter.

If you can buy individual beets, select ones of the same size, with greens attached if possible. Beets should be firm with a minimum of gouges and cuts, and not developing spongy spots. (Sometimes the only beets available will be tied in bunches already, which is better than none.)  At home, if not using the greens and/or beets right away, wrap in plastic and store in the vegetable crisper.

When ready to cook, cut the greens off about 1″ from the beet (back into the plastic if not using right away). Cut off and discard the rat-tail root.

Put the beets in a roasting pan and put in the oven at 400 until easily pierced with a knife. Depending on the size and age, this could take from 45 minutes to 1-1/2 hours.

They will be unbelievably, lingeringly hot when they come out of the oven! Let them cool until you can peel them without burning the flesh off your hands.

(Note: they can leave carbon deposits on the pan, so you  might want to lay a sheet of aluminum foil in the pan first, unlike what I did here.)

The most famous recipe for beets is Harvard beets (sliced beets in a cornstarch-thickened sweet sauce with hints of clove), but also well-known is the creation of some culinary wit, Yale beets (Harvard beets with orange juice ). Both of those are delicious and make a great accompaniment to pork or ham, but canned beets are best for those recipes, which are more about the sugary sauce than the quality of the main ingredient. And borscht, whether served hot or cold, takes advantage of the liquid in the canned product.

Usually I slice beets and saute them in butter, adding a little honey or brown sugar, freshly ground pepper, and a sprinkle each of cloves and cayenne. Or for a cold salad, beets are delicious tossed with sour cream or plain yogurt, chopped apple, and chopped green onions (as well as making the pinkest salad you ever saw).  There are plenty of ways to serve this unusual root vegetable – I’ve even seen beets incorporated into bread and homemade pasta.

Here, I sauteed the beets with green garlic (a wonderful vegetable only available in spring) and brown sugar.

In addition, I have heard of, but not personally tried, raw beet salad. The idea is that you peel the beet, then grate or shred it along with compatible ingredients (sweet onion, apple, sweet potato, parsnips, and so on) and toss with a vinaigrette. Apparently the beets are super-sweet served this way. It’s on my list of to-trys.

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