Beets . . . I used to hate them.
Oh, I always had seconds of my mother's pink chicken salad with beets, and I like cold beet soup, or borscht, but it was only this summer, when I ate more than my fair share of Mom's beet chutney, that I realized it's time to bring my attitude in line with my taste buds.
Beets can be grated raw in salad, served as a side vegetable or cooked into soup or relish. They're wonderful in a chocolate cake.
They have an affinity for cream sauces and vinegar, and are even cut into fancy shapes to serve as an elegant garnish.
Beets, a root vegetable, are usually sold in bunches of four to six. Look for medium bulbs about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter, unblemished. Store them in the refrigerator vegetable crisper for up to three weeks. They're available year-round.
Beets are like two vegetables in one, because the leaves may be cut off and cooked like greens.
Relatively low in calories, 1/2 cup of beets provides 30 calories, according to Jean Wisner, a registered dietitian. They're also a good source of potassium.
There's an aesthetic bonus, as well: Ms. Wisner points out that because "they are so pretty, they provide a color standout on the plate, particularly with white meats and fish."
Never peel beets before cooking or the red juices will run. Cut off the greens, leaving 1/2 -inch stalks. Trim the root end, wash well, then bake or steam the beets. Allow an hour for baking, 40 minutes for steaming, depending on size. Simplify cleanup by wrapping the beets in foil before baking.
Beets can also be microwaved. Add 1/2 cup water to 1 pound unpeeled beets, and microwave on high (100 percent power) in a covered dish for 10 to 12 minutes.
To test for doneness, press the beets with your finger; if the skin moves, they are done. Do not pierce, as the juices will run. Allow to cool, then peel off the skin, using disposable plastic gloves or even plastic bags to keep from staining your hands.
This cake, from "Farm Journal's Best Ever Vegetable Recipes" (Farm Journal Inc.), is one of the moistest chocolate cakes I have
Red beet chocolate cake
Serves eight to 10.
1 3/4 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups pureed cooked beets (about 1 pound raw beets)
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
whipped cream or White Mountain frosting (recipe follows)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 (9-inch) cake pans.
Sift together the flour, soda and salt. Set aside.
Beat together the sugar, oil and eggs for 2 minutes. Beat in the beets, melted chocolate and vanilla. On low speed, gradually stir in the flour mixture.
Spoon into prepared cake pans and bake about 25 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes, then turn out onto cake racks and cool completely. Spread whipped cream or frosting between layers and all over cake.
White Mountain frosting
In a saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup light corn syrup and 2 tablespoons water. Boil until mixture reaches 242 degrees on candy thermometer. Meanwhile, whisk 2 egg whites until stiff peaks form in mixer bowl. While still beating, gradually pour in the sugar mixture and continue beating until the frosting is thick and glossy.
Mom's pink chicken salad Makes 6 to 8 servings.
4 cups diced cooked chicken breasts
1 cup diced apple
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup pineapple tidbits, drained, juice reserved
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 cooked beet, diced
3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, cut in wedges
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Put the chicken, apple, celery, pineapple, raisins and nuts in a bowl and toss gently to combine.
Stir together the mayonnaise, yogurt and enough reserved pineapple juice to make a pourable dressing. Add to the salad.
Gently fold in the beets. Set on a serving platter and decorate with egg wedges. Sprinkle with parsley.
Clear beet soup
Makes 8 servings.
6 cups light chicken stock or water
6 medium cooked beets, grated or chopped (divided use)
bTC salt and pepper
1/2 cup sour cream
4 boiled potatoes, peeled and halved (optional)
Put stock in pan and add beets (reserving 1/4 cup beets for garnish). Simmer liquid very gently for 30 minutes to allow soup ++ to infuse. Add seasoning and lemon juice to taste and stir in the reserved beets. Serve hot or refrigerate and serve with a spoonful of sour cream and hot potato, if desired.
Makes about 4 pints.
2 onions, chopped
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 pounds cooked beets, diced
1 teaspoon salt
2 apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins
Put the onions and 1/4 cup vinegar in a saucepan. Simmer for 10 minutes or until soft.
Add the rest of the vinegar and remaining ingredients and simmer until the mixture is thickened, about 20 to 30 minutes. Pour into clean jars and seal. Allow to cool. Keep in refrigerator.