Fresh beets are a relatively new flavor sensation for most Americans. Yet a recent food-service survey and menu analysis for Kraft Foods rated beet salads second only to exotic greens among the hottest salad trends in fine restaurants.
With new golden beet and exciting candy-striped beet varieties turning up more frequently at farmers' markets and specialty-food stores, more people are tasting, and loving, beets.
At the Chef's Market in Philadelphia, director Ed Barranco, another beet lover, has offered a freshly made pickled beet salad almost since the store opened about 20 years ago. Now there is also a Lebanese beet salad among the appetizers and candied beet and roasted beet garnishes with many of the store's composed salads.
"Beets are the simplest thing in the world to cook, but a bit labor-intensive. They are an under-praised vegetable with great earthy flavor and sweetness," Barranco said. Among his favorite applications: scooping out little balls of beet with a melon baller and roasting them at 350 degrees for 30 minutes to bring out the sweetness.
You might not have noticed, but every supermarket has beets dangling from long leafy stems tucked between varied greens and fennel and other fresh root veggies in the produce aisle. They are available year-round and consistently priced, at about $1.99 for four small-to-medium or three medium-to-large bulbs.
Isn't it time you tried them?
Trim the beet stems, leaving from 1 to 4 inches of bare stem on each beet. This reduces "bleeding" of color and nutrients from the beet during cooking. Likewise, wait until the beet bulbs are cooked before trimming off any trailing roots.
Wash the beets in cold water.
Beets have a natural sweetness, so they respond well to tart dressing such as vinaigrette. Serve beets warm or at room temperature.
When mixing beets with other vegetables or fruit, prepare the beets separately, adding them to the finished dish last to keep them from tinting the mix.
Beets can be cooked on the stove top, in the oven, by microwave or on the grill, each method requiring varying degrees of time and attention. But all are easy. Beets should be cooked just enough to be easily pierced with a knife, but still have some crunch to them. Peel or rub off the skins after cooking.
Microwave: Place the beets in a microwave-safe container with a little water for steam and cook on high until tender, about 10 minutes. (Timing, depending on beet size and unit power, may run from 8 to 15 minutes.)
Stove top: Boil the beets in water until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Or steam them, using less water.
Oven roasting: Place peeled and quartered beets in a single layer in a roasting pan or baking dish. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil, some minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and combine. Roast at 375 degrees until tender, about 30 minutes.
Cooking the greens: Start by washing them to remove any dirt or sand. Cut thick stems into bite-size pieces and bring a pot of salted water to a boil. To even out cooking times, start thick pieces 2 to 3 minutes before adding smaller pieces, then the leaves. Boil until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Season to taste and serve.
Beets, Tomatoes and Peaches
1 bunch (4 medium) beets, roasted
3 ripe tomatoes
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Slip the skins off the beets after roasting, halve them and slice. Drop the slices into a mixing bowl.
Core the tomatoes and cut them into wedges. Add to the beets.
Wash the fuzz off the peaches. (You should not need to peel them if you've got ripe, fresh peaches; they'll have tender skin.) Cut the peaches into wedges thinner than the tomatoes and add them to the bowl.
Drizzle the oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss. Transfer to a platter or salad bowl and serve when you're ready. The dish can sit a while.
From "Tasty" by Roy Finamore. Recipe analysis provided by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Per serving: 118 calories, 2 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams sugar, 7 grams fat, no cholesterol, 186 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber