Beet me up: Six summery ways to enjoy the sweetest root vegetable

I peek under our hoop house garden bed to check the progress of the hundred beets we planted early in the winter. The greens look healthy and strong. For two months I have resisted the urge to harvest baby beets early. On occasion, I did harvest a few beets under the auspices of "thinning the bed." (Sometimes thinning a garden bed is necessary to give the growing beets enough space to reach their potential; other times it is an excuse to sample your bounty.) Our waiting has paid off as we harvest an abundant and tasty crop.

It was the health benefits of beets that convinced us to dedicate a large portion of our spring garden to this particular root crop. Beets are mineral rich, and they may also fight cancer with their high concentration of the antioxidant compound betalain. That's the compound that gives dark red beets their deep color.

We planted heirloom beets, which have a slightly higher nutritional punch than the standard commercially available beets. Nutrition in commercial beets has actually declined in the past 70 years, largely due to commercial seed trading nutrient density in exchange for higher yields. (See chart, or check out my other post over here.) The beets at the store are simply less nutritious than the heirlooms I grow in my garden, although you might find comparable ones at your local farmers market.

As I see it, I can enjoy three entire roasted beets, meet more than 15% of my iron requirement, and prevent cancer — all with a root crop that is extremely easy to grow in my garden, and that kids actually enjoy eating. We have planted many heirloom beets in our excitement.

Here in California, our beet harvest is at its peak. Californians ought to make a beeline to their local farmers markets to enjoy the beet bounty before it is over. Throughout cooler parts of the country, beet lovers will feast throughout the summer.

Appreciating the mountain of beets we are now harvesting, we have been experimenting with beet recipes. We ask everyone we know for interesting ways to use our beets, and they've delighted us with ideas. Here are our top picks:

Roasted Beets

This simple recipe tops my list of personal favorites: Peel and cube the beets. Toss them in olive oil and chopped garlic. Allow the beets to marinate for a few hours. Roast them in a 425-degree oven for about 45 minutes. They will become a bit crispy with garlic and olive oil undertones. Roasted beets may be my new favorite snack and get my highest recommendation.

If you are using the roasted beet as an ingredient in recipes, you can save time by roasting them whole. Wrap your washed and dried, unpeeled beets in foil and roast them in a 425-degree oven for about 60-90 minutes (depending on size, smaller ones will be done first) until they are soft through the center. Let them cool, peel them with your fingers, and cube them to use in the roasted beet recipe ideas below. Take the cubes a step further and purée them in a food processor if your recipe calls for a puréed beet.

Beet Citrus Salad

For a dazzling side salad, this combination of beets, orange, fennel, and chives is dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and mustard and served on a bed of baby greens. It is a great complement to a heavy beef dish but it is also exceptional with traditional vegetarian fare such as falafel and hummus. (My recipe's here.)

Grated Beet Salad

This is a terrific summer side dish. Simply peel and grate your fresh beets (a food processor comes in handy here) and toss with citrus, chives or other herbs, and olive oil for a bright combination of flavors that, like the beet citrus salad above, complements both a heavy beef-based entrée or a simple bed of brown rice pilaf. (Find the recipe at the New York Times.)

Beet and Potato Salad

This idea comes from the Polish countryside, where beets, potatoes, and cream are widely available to small farmers. The beets and potatoes are roasted separately and combined with a dressing of sour cream and dill weed, then garnished with fresh parsley and chives. The heartier flavor of the roasted potato balances the sweeter beet, creating a surprisingly delightful combination. You will be tempted to eat this salad as a stand-alone meal, but it also pairs nicely with with a green salad, cheesy flatbread, or a grass-fed steak. (Find my recipe here.)

Beet Root Soup

Use your roasted beet cubes along with chicken or vegetable broth as the base for a nourishing soup. Simply puree roasted beets and sauteed shallots in a hearty broth and top the soup with cream, chives, and fresh fennel. (You can also peel, cube, and boil fresh beets til tender, but roasted ones will have a much deeper flavor.) The flavors of the soup are delicate and the soup rich and satisfying. Serve the soup as an impressive first course or eat it as a meal with hot sourdough bread. (Find a recipe at About.com.)

Beets for Dessert

Thanks to the health benefits of beets and their natural sweetness, beet-based desserts are the new rage among creative cooks. Use a beet purée as you would a purée of pumpkin -- in muffins, cookies, cakes, and sweet breads. The color is delightful, and the flavor has so far passed the taste test of my 10-year-old, whose pickiness is epic. It helps that he has no idea where the vibrant red comes from. A chocolate muffin recipe (like this one) will get you started.

Got a great beet recipe? Please post it in the comments. We have quite a few beets to eat!

14 Responsesto “Beet me up: Six summery ways to enjoy the sweetest root vegetable”

  1. Is there by any chance a peer-reviewed publication giving details of your research on the nutritional qualities of different beet varieties?

  2. Amanda Rose says:

    Jeremy,

    Yes. There is a body of literature on this topic. You can follow the link above and it will direct you to this article: http://www.jacn.org/content/23/6/669.full

    You can also look up that article in Google Scholar to find other articles that cite it.

    Amanda

  3. Thanks Amanda; following up.

  4. Fun with Beets: we grow beets for our pastured pigs. I don't feed the beets to the pigs but rather I turn the pigs into the beet sections in the fall. As they eat the beets their lips turn bright red. Lipstick on a pig. It is very comical looking. :)

  5. Wind says:

    BEET CARPACCIO! This looks prettiest with chioggia beets, but works well with red or yellow. Peel beets, slice paper thin (mandolin works great) or as thin as possible. If cutting with a nice, it's easier to slice thin if you leave some of the stem on to use as a grip while slicing. Steam in small batches for 3-7 minutes or until tender. Spread on a plate and then I like to top with a sprinkling of rice wine vinegar, a high quality olive oil, some chopped raw walnuts and a few crumbles of goat cheese. ridiculously good and visually impressive.

  6. Green Steve says:

    Not a vegetable that's found on my plate often, but I'm tempted by these ideas...

  7. sandy says:

    Roasted beets, chunked and tossed with sauteed sliced red cabbage and sauteed or roasted red onions. (I also like white cabbage sauteed with onion and kielbasa.)

    Why do you foil-wrap the beets? I never have, for either beets or potatoes - expensive, wasteful, and unnecessary. Mom does have some aluminum skewers that she sticks thru the middle of potatoes, when she bakes them - it conducts heat into the center of the potato faster. I usually roast the scrubbed (but not peeled) beets in the oven with my bread, on baking day, in a small pan to guard the baking stone from pink/scorched stains. Works fine for me.

  8. ben says:

    I recently realised that beetroot tops are also delicious. try chopping and cooking in a little water, cooling and serving with your favorite salad dressing. Delicious!

  9. Laura says:

    I miss the posts from this blog.

  10. Yum....we love beets in our house. My 19 month old gobbles up roasted beets. They truly are one of nature's candies! Also on the note of declining nutrition, I wonder how much of that has to do with soil health in addition to seed health, since after all most commercial growers fertilize as opposed to composting.

  11. Alan says:

    I'm inspired by some of these suggestions. Unfortunately, I'm still struggling after 50 years to get past the experiences I had as a child that put me off beets ever since: every Wednesday lunch at school, without fail, mince and beetroot in vinegar, and you had to finish it - or else! I'm hoping that I can re-discover them thanks to recipes like these.

  12. Marisol says:

    Beet Burgers:
    2 or 3 beets grated
    Mix some flour (whatever kine you like use)and 1 egg or can use little oil.
    Mix and make patties. cook in skillet. Add whatever seasoning etc.
    Makes quite a bit of patties :)

  13. `Lidia says:

    I like the recipe of beets and potato salad. Just wanted to mention that there is no such thing as "grass fed steak" . There is comfort term for love and life loving creatures, whom we kill for those steaks and in order not to feel bad about it we embraced terms fed to us by the industry like "grass fed" "organic" "pasture raised" "humanely raised" etc. Those terms help us feel good about continuing consumption of products of animal exploitation, animal slaughter (all dairy cows and egg laying hens are slaughtered most, even "organic", even though they are not plants, are slaughtered in a very young age.
    It also helps us to think that consuming these live beings called "grass fed" we save our environment. There is nothing further from the truth. For that kind of operation we have to remove native forests, kill wildlife and the pollution goes into ground waters. If you are interested read the book, recommended by Ellen DeGeneres and written by Dr.Richard Oppenlander called "Comfortably unaware"

    Otherwise I like your posts about fruit and vegetables. Very interesting.