The root of the problem: beets
Raw Chiogga beets at Isa in Williamsburg
Despite the progress we've made to eat healthier––I'm thinking of the countless juice bars that have opened up, the additional pounds of kale sold at Whole Foods, and the number of food books written by Michael Pollen alone (seven)––there is still one vegetable with a bad reputation: beets.
I get it. They're messy to cook and cut; they turn their companions a different color (purple-ish), they turn things that come out of you a different color (reddish) and they have a firm bite in your mouth that might be unsettling. Men claim they don't like beets, but I've yet to hear a woman say the same thing. Beets are in at least one salad on virtually every menu, but still, there they are in the market waiting to be bought.
Boiled beets ready to be cubed
Some of you out there buy the pre-made beets, not the ones in cans I hope, but the ones in vacuum-packed plastic. I've done this a few times but never to pleasurable results. Store bought beets are smaller, softer and have a generic bland taste, maybe like a cold plain undercooked potato. When I cook my own beets they taste of the farmer, of the row of dirt they sprang from, of the hands that placed them in a cardboard box to be shipped (by truck or by rail) to my nearest market (farmers or otherwise). When I cook my own beets I get to lop off the greens for use in a future dish. I can sauté the greens with mushrooms and tofu or I can wash them, remove their spine, and use them in a warm lentil salad. Are you still with me?
Let's start with the basics. These icky root vegetables are pretty fantastic for you. A serving of beets (1/2 a cup) is only 58 calorie. It includes 13g of carbohydrates, just under 4g of dietary fiber, 2.2g of protein, and almost no unsaturated fat. One cup of cooked beet greens provides more than 100 percent of the daily value of vitamins A and K, and significant amounts of vitamin C, potassium and manganese. Studies have shown that, because of its high level of antioxidants and nitrates, beet juice can help improve blood flow, opening up your blood vessels to allow a greater flow of oxygen, which would help you before you exercise, and the potassium will help you after you exercise.
A simple green salad with gorgeous beets in a mustard vinaigrette
The pros and cons: the upside of eating or drinking fresh beets is that you haven't cooked any of its nutrients away; when you boil beets you lose many nutrients to the fluid (but you can always use the fluid to rehydrate bulgar or as the cooking liquid in risotto). When you bake beets you are amping up the sugar level because roasting locks the nutrients in.
Beet and bulgar salad (recipe from Telepan)
A few helpful reminders: in the summer try boiling your beets (less oven time). When you cut them wear a bag around the hand that is holding the beet (less red splotches). In the winter you can roast your beets, peeling and cubing before tossing them in olive oil and placing them on a pan headed for the oven. Even easier? Shred them on your grater over your salad bowl or cut them thin using a mandoline.
Here are a few of my favorite beet recipes:
Beet Greens Fritatta
Beet & Chickpea Salad with Anchovy Dressing
Roasted Beet Chips
Golden Beet and Jicama Salad with Crème Fraîche
Farro, Radicchio, and Roasted Beet Salad
Balsamic Roasted Beet Salad
I feel like I'm writing a PSA here, but go, get going and spend some time with one of my favorite roots.