Friday, July 2, 2010

Focus: BEETS (Beta Vulgaris)

Sweet.  Versatile.  Colorful.  Earthy.  Firm.  Not mushy.  Wouldn't you want a friend with these attributes?  I would.

That is why I love beets.  Plus beets store well, are nutritious, and are a good value  - you can eat the tops and the roots.   They can be enjoyed as small or baby beets in late spring or early summer and as mature beets later in the growing season.  They are a great winter storage crop, too.
Featherstone Farm grows the beautiful and tasty Chioggia variety (the one with the red and white concentric circles inside when raw) and the classic Detroit Red.  I love beets in salads, soups and as a side vegetable.  Sometimes I make a whole meal of steamed baby beets, beet greens and new potatoes, with creme fraiche and some chopped fresh dill on top.

Beet greens are high in calcium, iron and vitamin C.  The beet roots are very high in folates and manganese, vitamins A and C.  The Featherstone Farm Cookbook tells us that the pigment beta cyanin in beets "is a powerful cancer fighting agent and antioxidant".  There are 74 calories in a cup of cooked beets, which have one of the highest sugar contents of all vegetables.  That is why they taste so great roasted - the cooking process caramelizes all those sugars.  Smaller beets are usually sweeter.

Beet Greens
Wash well to remove all sand and grit.  Shake dry - it is ok if some water clings to the leaves.  Leaves can be steamed or boiled about 5 minutes and served as a side vegetable - either warm or at room temperature.   Dress cooked greens with a little olive oil and vinegar or just add a little butter.    The raw or cooked leaves can be added to soups or stews.  Beet greens are also wonderful just sauteed in olive oil with some garlic.  Serve with a splash of balsamic vinegar.   Note that more mature beet greens can become a little bitter - but they still have good flavor.  It is a matter of personal taste as to when beet greens get too bitter or strong to eat and need to end up in the compost.

Here is what I did with my beet greens this week:

Beet Preparation

One pound of beets, trimmed, should yield about 2 cups sliced or chopped and 1 3/4 cups shredded or grated.

Cook whole.  Trim leaves, leaving one to two inches of stem.  Don't trim root end.  Wash - but don't break the skin if possible - you want to avoid "bleeding" of too much beet color.   (you might need a brush to get dirt off the crown area) Cover beets with cold water in a cooking pot, bring to a boil.  Turn down, partly cover the pot and simmer until tender.  About 20 minutes for baby beets and up to an hour (or maybe more) for large or more mature beets.  Cool in cooking water.  Rub off peels and stems under running water - they should come off easily.  At this point the beets can be refrigerated for up to a week until you are ready to use them.

Roast or Bake
Wash, trim leaves, leaving one to two inches of stem.  Leave whole.  Wrap in foil or put into a heavy dish (with just a spoon or two of water) and cover.  Bake at 375 degrees until tender - about 30-40 minutes for small beets.  Cool and rub off peels.  As with boiled beets, roasted beets can be refrigerated until you need them - about a week.

You can also cut up beets (peeled or not),  mix with a very small amount of oil and roast spread out on a baking sheet at 375 degrees. 

Beets are excellent raw in salads - if grated or julienned (cut into matchsticks).  Wash.  Leave on a few inches of stem to use as a "handle" if you plan to grate the raw beets by hand.

Beet Recipes

Buttered baby beets
Boil beets whole.  Remove skins.  Serve with melted butter, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.

Beet Composed Salads
Boil or roast beets, peel and slice or dice.  Prepare bed of lettuce or cooked beet greens and dress with a little oil and vinegar or favorite vinaigrette.  (Beets have an affinity for citrus - so a dressing with a little fresh lemon, lime or orange juice would be great.)
Arrange on top of the greens:  sliced or diced beets, other vegetables such as cucumber, steamed green beans, thinly sliced onion,  carrots (raw or cooked, shredded or diced) and cooked diced potatoes.
If desired, add herbs (dill is nice); cheese (goat or blue is good); nuts;  or fruit (citrus or berries, sliced apples.)
Add some more dressing on top of these additions or serve on the side so eaters can add their own.

When making composed salads, avoid the kitchen sink approach.  Go slowly.  Pay attention to flavors, colors and textures. You are the artist.  Proceed accordingly.  Here is one I made with raspberries, goat cheese, diced beets and toasted black walnuts.

Vinaigrette for beet salads(From the Featherstone Farm cookbook)
1 T. minced shallot
1 T. fresh lemon juice
3 T. fresh orange juice
1/2 t. Dijon (I might use 1 t.)
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

 Raw beet and kohlrabi salad
Grate equal parts raw beets and kohlrabi (peel vegetables first.)  Add a little grated onion if desired.  Add olive oil and red wine vinegar, a bit of sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
Optional - chopped parsley or other fresh herb, toasted sunflower seeds.

Tomorrow:  Tried and True - Cornbread

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