I never ate beets growing up but now they are among my favorite vegetables, especially the beautiful, juicy new beets that are so abundant this time of year. Beets are also really good for you; they contain unique antioxidants and vitamin C, folates and potassium. They also keep well, so you can cook a mess of them and have them at the ready. Come to think of it, in the summer, I almost always eat them cold, so cooking them in advance (or when you have a cooler day) works well.
The easiest beet-cooking trick is to wrap them in foil, pop them in a baking dish and put them in a corner of the oven when you have it turned on for anything else. Even if the oven temperature is low, the beets will just take a little longer, from 20 to 40 minutes, depending on size and then pierce one with a fork to test. When the beets are cooled, open the foil and slide off the skins. Then, slice and, for example, alternate with slices of goat cheese or oranges and dress with a light vinaigrette. If you can get a hold of gorgeous yellow beets and concentrically red-and-white striped Chioggia beets, a mix of them makes a colorful array.
Another great cooking idea is to roast white turnips and cubed or small potatoes at the same time as the beets. These mixed roast vegetables can be served warm or dressed and then at room temp as a side dish. Maybe strew a few chopped scallions or fewer chopped garlic scapes over them.
Don’t rush those beet greens to the compost, especially if they are farmers-market-fresh and perky. Treat them just as you would their cousins, Swiss chard. The leaves are similarly sweet and taste great balanced with a little acid. The quickest preparation is olive oil and garlic, finished with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Some beet lovers prefer a butter sauté and a squeeze of lemon juice. The important thing is to dry the washed, chopped leaves and cook them with a lid to wilt them down, and then cook them without a lid so they dry out a little.
I also throw beet greens in with any other tender greens (spinach, chard, turnip), add feta cheese, oregano and egg, maybe a tablespoon of flour to bind and use this as a base for a quiche or a filling for filo or puff pastry … sort of a cheater spinach pie. Warning: even a huge pile of greens cooks down very quickly to a very little amount, so you’ll need several pounds.
Beets can dye your hands like exotic henna. My friend, Gerald Stern, of New Rochelle, N.Y., braves red hands to make this vibrant, quick salad. “The longer it sat the better it got, but it was so delicious, it didn’t last long!” says Stern.
Recipe: Raw Beet Salad
- Two to three medium-to-large beets per person
- lemon juice
- red wine vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper
- fresh thyme
- Chopped scallions, garlic scapes or radishes, optional
Use a mandolin or a food processor to julienne the beets. Mix the vinaigrette and dress the beets. If possible, let sit about 30 minutes before serving.