The beet is a root vegetable native of the coasts of the Mediterranean.
It comes in varieties that are gold, orange, white, or striped like candy (Chioggia). However, the most popular and preferable to any other, are the red beets, particular the ones that retain their dark-red color after cooking.
When selecting beets in the market, choose a bunch with small leaves that are not yellowing or frayed. The greens are an indication of freshness of the beet; if they look moist and fresh, the beet will be too. If the beets are sold without leaves, select roots that look perfect – dry but not cracked, healthy, have a smooth skin, and preferably uniform in size.
If you intend to use beet leaves in a dish, cut them off leaving 1 to 2 inches of stem on the beets, and store the beets and leaves separately in open plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper. The greens will keep only a day or two, but the roots will keep at least 1-2 weeks or even longer.
Wash the beets carefully, scrubbing with a soft brush to remove all particles of dirt; but avoid scraping, cutting, or breaking, otherwise the sweet juices will escape while cooking. For storage, be careful not to bruise or break the skins.
Beets may be boiled, baked, or steamed, and used in various healthy cooking recipes. To save time, cook the beets in a microwave oven, or use the grated-sauté method– you can serve beautiful confetti of beets to garnish the pork chop in about 10-15 minutes.
Almost any recipe that requires using baked beets can be made
with boiled beets if you follow general advice for boiling vegetables and keep in mind a few “don’ts” when cooking beets.
Carefully wash any dirt off the beets, taking care not to break the skin, roots or crown. If the skin is broken, the color of beets will be lost and they will look a dull pink after cooking. Place the beets in a saucepan, cover with boiling water, and cook gently, covered, until tender. Young beets will be done in 30 to 40 minutes depending on their size. Cooking old beets will require 1 hour or more.
Unless you are making borscht and need a lot of beet liquid, cook beets unpeeled and use just enough boiling water to cover.
To determine if the beets are done, pierce them with a knife – the fork will let juices run, or press with the finger. The beet will be tender when sufficiently cooked. When done, drop into cold water for a minute. Then, the skin can be easily rubbed off with the hands.
To somewhat minimize staining of your hands with the beet juice, use rubber gloves or paper towel to remove the skin off the beets.
Cut into small slices to serve with dressing and in salads, or serve whole if the beets are small.
If you want something entirely different in taste and flavor of your vegetable dish, try baking or roasting instead of cooking beets in water. They look and taste much better baked than boiled, though it takes longer to cook properly. French cooks bake them slowly six hours in a covered dish, the bottom of which is lined with well-moistened rye straw. However, they may be baked on the oven grate, like potatoes.
Wash and dry the beets carefully. Bake at 375°F in a baking dish with a very little water until tender.
Another way to bake the beets is to wrap them individually in aluminum foil, or bake directly on the oven rack. Baking times and temperature may vary with each individual oven, but expect to bake, or roast beets for 50 min or more, depending on size.
Quick and easy Roasted Beets Salad.
When you are cooking beets, boiled or baked, it’s a good economy to make more than needed for one meal, and pickle the remaining ones. There are different recipes for pickled beets out there – some call for more sweetness, some add horseradish and various spices for a more piquant taste.
Peel the cooked beets and cut them into slices unless they are very small – then you can pickle them whole. Place in a glass jar and pour hot vinegar sweetened slightly and flavored with spices. Pickled beets make an excellent relish, and will keep in a cold place for an indefinite period.
When making pickled beets, save some of the spicy pickling liquid and put a half-dozen shelled hard-boiled eggs. Pickled eggs will take on a beautiful color and excellent flavor and are great as appetizers served with crisp hearts of celery, or sliced in sandwiches or salads.
An altogether different way of pickling beets to preserve their natural nutrients is fermentation. They make a delicious and healthy condiment and can be served as starters, or with fatty meat dishes to improve digestion.
Quick Ways of Cooking Beets
For good taste and good health, best ways of cooking beets call for a brief and minimal exposure to water or other liquid. Rather than boil beets in the water, steam or microwave fresh beets until they are just cooked through.Choose quick cooking methods to limit exposure to heat. Wait until you are ready to cook, before you peel or slice fresh beets to limit exposure to air.
A microwave oven is hard to match for speed of cooking beets and maximum preservation of their nutrients. Beets cooked in the microwave will have vibrant red color, and fine flavor, and with careful attention, delicious texture. Microwave the beets unpeeled, whole or cut in quarters, with a little water added. They will be ready in 10-15 minutes depending on beets’ size.
You can grill beets whole, or cut in slices, wrapped in foil, seasoned with herbs and spices, or directly on the grill rack above a hot fire.
Cook whole unpeeled 2 ½ -inch beets with 1 ½ cups liquid at 15 pounds pressure for 15 minutes, small beets with 1 cup liquid for 12 minutes. Cool the cooker at once.