COOK: Beets Every Which Way

beets_natalia de cuba romero

Anyone who has grown up being force fed beets from a can may be excused for thinking that beets are flabby, jelly-like disks floating in purple juice and are only pretending to be real vegetables.

But there are just a couple of weeks left to Long Island’s spring beet season, and it’s a great time to stop with the excuses and give real natural fresh beets a try. Restoration Farm in Old Bethpage has organic and sustainably grown golden, red, and a dramatic red and white bulls-eye Chioggia-type beets at the farm stand says grower Daniel Holmes. “I’d say we’ll have them for another couple of weeks,” he adds. “They’ll be back in the fall, around mid to late September.”

Loads of health claims surround beets; jocks will be interested to know that Men’s Health magazine equates them with spinach as a power food because of the folate and betaine they contain. Health food enthusiasts fall all over themselves to tell us about the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. They may even reduce blood pressure,

The best news is that whatever their healthy properties, beets from the garden are versatile and delicious, from the greens (which legend has it were the primary attraction back in Roman days) to the root, which your British friends probably actually call beetroot to differentiate from the leafy part.

Here are some basic instructions followed by a citrusy salad recipe.

Trim off the greens about an inch from the beetroot as soon as you get home. The greens should be used within a day or two, taking out larger ribs before cooking. They can be used like most other leafy greens, in salad or sauteed.

The unwashed beet roots will last about three weeks in the fridge. To use, scrub gently.  Grate them raw into salads and slaws by paring the root just to where you plan to grate.

To cook, do not remove the long root end. Do not peel before cooking. You can wrap in foil and roast at 400°F for 1 to 1.5 hours or simmer in salted boiling water for 30 minutes to 1.5 hours. Another option is to steam in a vegetable steamer for 30-45 minutes. The beets are done when a fork goes easily through the center. The skins will come off easily and should be removed while the beets are still warm. Use kitchen gloves or put your hands in plastic bags to handle them, as they will stain a bit, although I have found it washes right off my hands. Off my cutting board? That takes some scrubbing.

Flavor affinities include goat cheese, feta, tarragon, carrots, apples, herring and ham.

The following recipe is one of my favorites and incorporates both greens and root. You can find a round-up of beet recipes on my blog, Hot, Cheap & Easy.

Citrusy Roasted Beet Salad with Orange and Beet Greens
6 medium beets with beet greens attached
1 large navel orange, peeled, separated into segments, pith and white removed
2 shallots, peeled and chopped fine
¼ -1/3 cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp grated orange peel

Preheat oven to 400 F. Trim greens from beets. Cut off and discard stems. Coarsely chop leaves and reserve.
Wrap each beet loosely in foil. Place on oven rack and roast until tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Cool, then peel beets (use gloves or small sandwich bags to protect fingers from stains. Cut into eight wedges and place in medium bowl.
Bowl four cups of water, then add beet greens and cook until tender, just 2-3 minutes. Drain, cool and squeeze out as much water as possible. Add greens to beet bowl. Add orange segments (you may break them up) and shallots to bowl. Whisk vinegar, oil, garlic and orange peel in a small bowl to blend well and add to beet mixture. Stir to coat, season with salt and vinegar and allow to stand for at least an hour at room temperature before serving.

Restoration Farm’s farm stand is open Wednesday from 4 pm-6pm and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and is at 140 Bethpage-Sweet Hollow Road Old Bethpage, NY 11804. For more information call 631-842-2283.

Natalia de Cuba Romero posts simple seasonal and Latin recipes at Hot, Cheap & Easy.