My first encounter with beets was decades ago, as a child. As a mainly visual individual, the first thing that attracted me to the jar of pickled beets in the pantry was its deep magenta color. It was a fascinating, assertive shade of pink I had not seen in food…or anything else. At the time, I found the flavor to be a little off-putting, but the greatest challenge for me was the soft, squishy texture. My tiny, quite underdeveloped palate did not appreciate beets…at all.
Fast forward several decades and I cannot walk by a stall in the farmers market without anxiously scanning for beets. Any color, any size…with or without the tops. You would not believe how many pictures of beets I have taken with my iPhone while I pretend to peruse the rest of the produce. The beets are just so beautiful! They are so photogenic too!
Photogenic or not, beets are considered root vegetables. Obviously, that description pertains mainly to the part of the beet plant that grows underground and out of sight. However, beets also have beautiful as well as nutritious greens that should not be discarded. They can be used much like chard or collards, and have a distinctive, slightly bitter flavor. The roots come in different colors, deep magenta being the most common. There also are golden beets and even some beautiful rainbow varieties.
Beets contain certain compounds called betalains that give them their unique pigmentation. They also contain manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and Vitamin C. They are, as well, an excellent source of folate (important for pregnant ladies) and they contribute a good amount of fiber to your daily diet. Interestingly, beets provide us with excellent antioxidant protection and they act as an anti-inflammatory in those individuals suffering from cardiovascular or insulin related disorders. They support gentle detoxification and even seem to safeguard from certain forms of colon cancer.
I always prefer to purchase beets that are still attached to their leaves. They should feel firm to the touch. Their leaves should be fresh and deep green in color. Reject any beets with wilting stems or those that yield to gentle pressure. If you wash them and put them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, they should last for a couple of days. A good option is to use the greens first and reserve the roots for later use.
A simple option is to shave the roots into thin slices (use a mandolin or food processor) and add them raw to your salads. Otherwise, steam or roast beets for deeper, sweeter flavor. Even by themselves with a simple drizzle of olive oil, they make an outstanding side dish that combines well with almost any food.
Above all, don’t feel intimidated by beets. Other than a good pair of gloves to avoid ending up with bright pink hands, you do not need any special equipment to enjoy this very healthy treat from the earth… They will elevate any dish with their striking colors and exceptional nutritional profile. Next time you visit your local farmers market, pay a little attention to this lovely root vegetable. It really can’t be “beet”.