We'll kick off our new vegetable blog with one of our most popular veggies: the BEET!
Growing up, I found beets to be one of the most horrifyingly unpalatable things to be found on a plate since they usually were boiled or canned, and just more intensely flavored than I cared for. I honestly don't think I ate a beet for 20 years. When I moved to New Hampshire, I was really surprised at how many people at market wanted beets and beet greens, so I gave them a second chance and realized that in their non-canned format, they can actually be awesome!
I guess I'm not alone in the re-discovery of beet awesomeness since so many of you, our customers, love them. We've also been particularly amazed at how many kids seem to like them!
We grow several varieties of beets on the farm--some regular red/purple ones, some Chioggia (an Italian heirloom beet that has red and white circles to its interior), and golden beets. In general, we find the regular beets the beet-iest in flavor, and the Chioggia and golden slightly milder and slightly sweeter. The gold and Chioggia also have the advantage of not bleeding very much, so they are great to use in dishes where you want to avoid turning everything beet colored. For 2016, we also have a surprise new beet we are trialing...
Beets are incredibly fun to grow because they are fairly fast and fun to harvest (who doesn't like pulling huge, intense-colored roots out of the ground?). We transplant some of our beets and direct seed others. Once planted, our two big challenges are keeping the deer away and maximizing plant health. Of all the vegetables in the fields, beets are far and away the most popular with the deer, probably for the same reason they are popular with us--they get so sweet!
Beets are closely related to chard and spinach, and you can probably taste some similarities to their flavors. They also tend to be a bit less starchy than some of the other heartier vegetables. They are very nutritious, with lots of A and C vitamins. One of the best things about beets (besides their versatility in cooking) is that they store very well into the winter. We have plenty of beets at winter market through March, and generally start getting fresh ones again by June.
Preparing and Storing Your Beets:
- We don't generally peel our beets--it's a messy process and many of the best nutrients lie close to the skin surface. We will scrub them with a veggie brush and maybe peel away a little bit right at the top if it's a bit coarser.
- If it's summertime and you have beets with attached greens, we recommend cutting off the greens and storing roots and greens separately, as the roots will last longer this way. Greens will last up to 5 or 6 days, but roots can last months if kept in a cool, humid environment. We usually store ours in the crisper in a veggie bag or plastic bag.
- Many folks like to cook up a lot of whole beets at once (either baked, boiled, or steamed) and then store them in the fridge for later use in salads.
General cooking ideas for beets:
- Shredded: You can eat raw beets (Chioggia and golden are my favorite for this) by just peeling off any rough or coarse spots, then shredding them up over your salad. I would use 1/2 to 1 beet per serving as a salad topping.
- Boiled or Steamed: You can prepare a batch of beets this way and then store them for a week's worth of salads. They are nice dressed with olive oil or vinaigrette and salt and pepper (or a little goat cheese). To boil, leave the skins on and boil the whole beet for about 45 minutes (at which point the skins will slip off when the beets cool. To steam, cut them into quarters and steam for about 20 minutes. The beets are done when they are softer and the skin starts to come off, but they still have a pleasant firmness to them.
- Baked/Roasted: This is our preferred cooking method, because the long baking starts to really caramelize the beet sugar and make them sweeter and milder. You can also roast as whole beets and treat as above. Our go-to beet recipe involves chopping them into 3/4 inch pieces, tossing them with oil and salt and pepper, and baking at 400 for 40 to 60 minutes, depending on how crispy you like them. This is also a good gateway beet recipe to convert the uninitiated.
- Leaves as greens: Beet greens can be used in any recipe that calls for chard or spinach. Personally, I find them a bit overly intense (like spinach they have a lot of oxalic acid) and prefer chard, but they are a huge favorite in New England as one of the first vegetables of spring.
- Stealth beets in cakes: Chocolate beet cake is AMAZINGLY good! There are a wide range of recipes out there, including some gluten-free ones. You can't really even tell there are beets in the cake, but you can sense their presence because they add an wonderful amount of moisture and enhance the flavor and color. If you have someone in your house that you want to slide some beets into, this is definitely the way to go!
- Soups (Borscht): There are a huge number of variations on borscht, a delicious eastern European beet soup. I'm a fan of the chilled versions, which are really nice and refreshing in mid-summer.
- Pickled: I have to confess that I've so far been scared to pickle beets (these are some of the ones that I didn't like as a kid)! We definitely need to rectify this. In general, try to use medium size or small roots for this, and it seems to work best if you have a fairly uniform batch of roots.