I, too, was a beet hater, but I fell in love with them one summer when I grew them, at my wife's insistence. I never knew how sweet they could be until I cooked a few on the grill. I think the widespread distaste for beets can be traced largely to the deficiencies of the canned variety many of us were forced to eat as children. But these can scarcely be compared to the roots being picked from the garden.
If beets turn up at your local farmers market or come your way in a weekly community supported agriculture box, do yourself a favor and give them a try. You might be surprised at how delicious they can be when cooked right.
If you're a gardener, you still have time to plant some beets for a fall harvest; in fact, they will thrive in cool weather. Sow seeds in good soil and be sure to thin them after they sprout. Beet seed is interesting --- it's actually a coating around several seeds. When the seeds germinate, three or four seedling can appear. They must be spaced properly to reach decent size.
Use the thinnings in salads; they're sweet and tender. It's one of those things only gardeners are able to enjoy. Pick the beets when they are small for buttery texture when baked.
Beets come in many colors including red, yellow, pink and white. Each one tastes a little different and can add something special to the presentation of a dish. One of my favorite varieties is 'Chioggia.' It's a red Italian heirloom that sports white flesh with pink concentric circles on the inside resembling a target. Chioggia beets should be easy to find at farmer's markets, as they've become popular among specialty growers. They offer a milder flavor --- maybe a good one to start with when discovering the wonders of beets.
Mom knew her stuff though when she was forcing us to eat beets; they are high in manganese, potassium, fiber and vitamin C. Betacyanin is the deep purple pigment that gives beets their rich color; it's been identified as a cancer fighting agent. Colon cancer in particular was singled out as something the pigment might help prevent.
More than just the root of the beet is edible. The mature greens can be eaten too. They are great sauteed with butter and garlic, they pair well with bacon and can even be a substitute for spinach in many dishes. I take the stems off and just use the leafy greens for a different type of Florentine sauce.
Roasted beets are my favorite. They're sliced in half, tossed in a bowl with a little good extra virgin olive oil and some sea salt, put into a pan and then in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour. They can be eaten as is, or this could be the starting point for other dishes.
Through a chance encounter, I was able to connect with one of the gardeners at the White House after he saw a video I produced on YouTube encouraging the first family to try garden beets. I sent him a few packs of organic seed, crossed my fingers and waited.
The last I heard he was trying to get the message to Mrs. Obama, but he promised me that, one way or another, he would grow a few beets this season.
I hope the president will give them a try. I send the same message to him that I want all gardeners to hear: All we are saying is give beets a chance.
GOAT CHEESE MOCK RAVIOLI
I've made this recipe countless times and it's always a hit (at least with beet lovers). It's inspired by a recipe from The Food Channel, with a few twists.
- 2 pounds fresh garden/farm beets
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt, to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons flour
- 1 cup orange juice, divided
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
- 6 ounces goat cheese or another soft cheese, feta works too
- 1/2 cup chopped shelled pistachios, divided
Slice beets in half, and toss in a bowl with olive oil and sea salt. Put beets into a baking pan and bake at 400 F for about an hour. Then cool and peel beets.
Melt butter in small saucepan, and then add the flour, whisking until well blended. Stir in half of the orange juice until smooth. Whisking constantly, bring to boil on medium heat. Remove from heat. Pour into small bowl. Whisk in remaining orange juice. Stir in sugar, lemon juice and one teaspoon of the tarragon. Let cool.
Mix cheese, 1/4 cup of the pistachios and remaining tarragon in small bowl.
Cut beets into thin slices (no more than 1/8-inch thick). Spoon 1/2 to 1 teaspoon filling onto a beet slice, and then cover with a second beet slice to create a ravioli. Repeat with remaining beet slices and filling.
To serve, spoon some tarragon/orange sauce onto each serving plate. Arrange a few ravioli on each plate and sprinkle with the remaining pistachios.