Tuesday, April 11, 2006

All about Beets


Some vegetables are easy to love. And while I think of beets as Russian comfort food, they can be challenging for people. The color is so strong, the preparation is almost always messy and the flavor is, well, let's just call it "earthy". I once described beets as bombs. Paint bombs, to be exact. But that intense color combined with the explosion of sweetness can carry a dish. Beets are amazingly versatile when you think about it, they are tasty hot or cold, you can eat them raw, boiled, baked or steamed, or juice them. They are easily available from Summer through Winter so it makes sense to get to know them and more than just one or two ways to use them.

If the red color is too intimidating, think about trying Chiogga beets that come in brilliant yellow tones. Another way to capitalize on their sweeetness and moisture is to hide them in a chocolate cake (chocolate beet cake recipes abound on the internet). Or concentrate on using the bitter greens, they are especially good in pasta or as a filling for ravioli. You can buy beets canned or vacuum packed and pre-prepared at places like Trader Joe's, but I think it's worth buying them fresh, especially to use raw in certain kinds of salads.

The health benefits of beets are impressive. High in folate, manganese and potassium they have been shown to have cancer-fighting properties. In addition to antioxidant activity, in tests they reduce cholesterol, triglycerides and increase HDL (the healthy cholesterol).

The easiest way to prepare beets is to peel them, then grate them using a fine shredding disk in the food processor. After that, mix them with a vinaigrette or yogurt for a tangy, sweet and refreshing salad. To cook them, leave an inch or two of stem, wrap them in foil and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until tender. Let cool before you peel and trim them. Don't have an hour? Place washed beets in a covered dish with 1/4 cup water and microwave for 10 minutes.

Here are some more ideas for using beets:

* Slice cooked beets thinly, dress with with vinaigrette to make beet carpaccio

* Toss cooked beets with greens and a crumbly cheese like feta or chevre

* Add chunks of roasted beets to risotto (see my recipe here)

* Layer slices with goat cheese for mini appetizers

* Mix chopped cooked beets with yogurt and chopped green chile to make a raita

* Shred beets to make soup (see my recipe here)

* Drizzle with olive oil and roast with a mix of root vegetable and onions

* Finely chop roasted beets, dress with lemon juice, olive oil and pepper to make "beet caviar"