When our summer gardening conversation turned to beets, Farmer John Sayles of Poland sent along some recipes and what he calls the ultimate beet quote:

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.” — Tom Robbins, from his novel “Jitterbug Perfume”

Serious indeed! Lovely is the beet, simply cooked al dente and drenched in butter, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. If short on time, this is the perfect way to cook them. But with a few additional minutes and easy-to-find ingredients such as maple syrup, soy sauce or Dijon mustard, the very flexible beet can take on new flavorful meanings. Being such a flexible vegetable, you can even pair it with chocolate to produce a cake!

These colorful root vegetables contain powerful nutrients that are often considered helpful in protecting against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer. Beets are an excellent source of the B vitamin and folate, and a very good source of manganese and potassium. They also provide dietary fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus.

How to pick a good beet:

Smaller is better. Beets over 2.5 inches in diameter may be tough or have a woody core.

Pass over any beets that are cracked, soft, bruised, shriveled or look very dry.

If the beet greens are still attached to the root, they should be crisp looking and not wilted or slimy.

Avoid elongated beets with round, scaly areas around the top surface. These beets will be tough, fibrous and strongly flavored.

How to prepare:

Wash beets gently before cooking, but do not pare or trim them. To preserve nutrients, beets are best cooked whole with their peels intact. This also prevents their color from leaking out and leaving the beets brown and unappetizing in appearance. Adding an acid while cooking, such as vinegar or lemon juice, will help preserve the intensity of the color.  

Boiling beets takes from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the age and size of the beets. Be sure that they are covered with water, in a covered pan. Beets can be microwaved in about 14 minutes. Use a half-cup of water in a covered dish, rearranging the beets halfway through the cooking time. Leave them covered for 5 minutes after microwaving. Baking beets takes longer, between 45 and 75 minutes, but more nutrients are retained. Cooked beets should be tender all the way through.

Once cooked, run cold water over the beets to cool them. The skin should slide right off. Wear gloves, unless you don’t mind having your hands stained with beet juice.

Don’t’ forget the beet greens! Similar to spinach, the greens can be enjoyed raw in salads, boiled (or microwaved) for 7 to 10 minutes. You can also saute them in a bit of olive oil. Season to taste. Beet greens contain a larger amount of nutrients than beet roots. The greens are richer in iron, calcium and vitamins A and C.

A very versatile vegetable, beets can go from a traditional Russian borscht to canned and pickled, to spiced up and mixed with other fresh ingredients and or made into salads. I kid you not — approximately one million recipes for beets show up on an online search, for both hot and cold dishes. But we will leave you today with just a few “beet-ific” suggestions on how to bring a little adventure into your late summer cooking.

Recipes:

Chocolate Beet Cake

(From Farmer John’s Cookbook)

Oil and flour for preparing the pan

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1 cup mild-flavored vegetable oil, divided

3 eggs

1 and 3/4 cups sugar

2 cups pureed cooked beets (about 3 medium beets)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups flour

2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly coat a 10-cup Bundt or two 9-inch cake pans with oil and dust with flour.

Partially fill the bottom of a double boiler with water and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce to a simmer.

Put the chocolate and 1/4 cup of the oil in the top of the double boiler. Heat just until the chocolate melts; remove from heat and stir until well combined.

Combine the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Slowly beat in the remaining 3/4 cup oil, chocolate mixture, beets and vanilla.

Sift the flour into a large bowl. Stir in the baking soda and salt. Gently stir the flour mixture into the egg and chocolate mixture just until flour is mixed in. Pour batter into the prepared pan(s).

Bake until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes.

Carefully remove the cake from the pan and let cool on the rack. When completely cool, dust with powdered sugar.

Teriyaki Beets

(From Farmer John’s Cookbook)

12 small or 6 medium beets, scrubbed

1/4 cup butter

2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup

1 tablespoon garlic, minced or pressed

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated

1/8 to 1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Place beets in a small roasting pan with 1/2 cup water. Cover and bake until beets are easily pierced with a sharp knife, 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on their size. Allow beets to cool slightly, then run under cold water, slip off their skins (this is optional; we often leave the skins on), and cut into bite size pieces. Preheat the broiler. Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Stir in the honey/maple syrup, garlic, ginger and soy sauce or tamari. When the ingredients are thoroughly combined, remove from heat. Put the beets in a shallow baking pan and pour the teriyaki sauce over them. Broil, stirring occasionally, 5 to 10 minutes.

Honey Dijon Roasted Beets

(Source includes numerous websites)

Ingredients:

2 pound fresh red beets

2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped (optional)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup honey Dijon mustard

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove greens and root from beets (but don’t trim closely). Place beets in medium bowl, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss. Transfer to roasting pan and spread beets in a single layer; roast in oven until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes for small, 45 minutes for very large.

Remove pan from oven and let beets cool. When cool enough to handle, remove skins and quarter or cut into eighths, depending on size.

Melt butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add beets and cook, stirring often, until lightly caramelized, about 4 to 6 minutes. Drizzle lemon juice over beets and season with salt and pepper.

Stir in mustard and continue to cook over medium heat 2 minutes. If desired, add mint and stir to coat the beets. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Beet Bruschetta

(From the University of Maine Cooperative Extension office)

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 cup white wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons dried oregano

2 tablespoons dried basil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

4 cups beets, cooked, peeled and chopped

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate.

Serve on grilled bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil, salt and pepper.


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