In Praise of Beets
Diane Rezendes, food writer
Beets are controversial, to be sure. Along with cilantro, truffles, and certain exceptionally strong-smelling cheeses, people’s attitudes split right along these party lines: love ‘em or hate ‘em, and very few in-between.
Which camp are you in? Are you among those who adore beets for their luscious red hue, their sensuous telltale color they leave behind, their sweet earthiness on the palate?
Or are you a ‘hater’ who derisively refers to the glorious beet as ‘dirt on a plate?’ If that’s you, we have a suggestion. You can skip right past the red beets (which are high in geosmin, the compound that makes a beet smell like fresh, clean dirt), but keep an open mind and try the more mellow golden beet. You might find you like beets after all!
Golden beets have less sugar than their red counterparts, but they’re also less earthy and more mellow. For a beautiful and colorful presentation, roast sliced golden beets with small potatoes (such as blue potatoes or red-skinned potatoes), chopped mild sweet onion, and drizzled with Sigona’s Fresh Press Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Finish the dish with feta or goat cheese. If you are ready for them, include red beets as well.
Cook’s tip: roast the red beets in a separate dish. Combine them only when you are ready to serve (the red will spill over and dominate the golden beets.
Committed beet aficionados can get their beet fix from raw beets, steamed beets and pickled beets. Because they are so sweet, earthy and dense, beets as a side dish play best with rich fare such as pork and duck. Juiced beets make a nice addition to your green drinks and healthy juice drinks – but go easy: beet juice is intensely sweet! In my opinion, one of the nicest ways to prepare them this time of year is to roast them with other root vegetables, or as a solo act.
Choosing and Using
Look for beets that are firm. Dirt on the outside of the beets is fine. Don’t bother washing them till you’re going to use them.
If the leaves are attached, they should look fresh with vibrant color and no signs of wilting. And you don’t want to miss out on using those leaves – nothing better than some yummy sautéed beet greens (try them in a mix of butter and our Sigona’s olive oil, then finish with good quality salt. Or add in some minced garlic or sprinkle with red pepper flakes – experiment till you find what you like best.) Wrapped loosely and kept refrigerated, beets will keep at least a week. Stored longer, they should still be fine – in fact, what they lose in tenderness, they make up for with additional sweetness.
The beet beat
- 50% of all commercial sugar comes from sugar beets, not sugar cane (or coconut or date or other sugar sources).
- The emergence of beets as an alternative source of sugar may have helped end the Caribbean slave trade.
- Beet extract is a common natural dye used in ice creams, beverages and snacks. Check your labels and you’ll often find beet root extract as a natural color (and sometimes sweetener).