Sweet and earthy beets are delicious roasted, boiled, grilled, and even raw — making this versatile, nutrient-dense root vegetable a farmers market favorite. Bonus: freshly harvested beets are sold with the edible greens attached, so beets are a great choice for shoppers looking to reduce food waste and stretch their food dollars.
Beets are a root vegetable in the Amaranthaceae family, which also includes quinoa and spinach. Historically, beets were cultivated for their greens. In 1747, chemist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf discovered how to produce beets with a high concentration of sucrose, which today is known as “sugar beets.” This was an important discovery, as about 20% of the world’s sugar comes from sugar beets. In Maryland, beets can be found year round at farmers markets; however, they are at peak season from June-December.
Beets are a nutritional powerhouse. Both the beet root and greens are packed with essential nutrients. Don’t tell Popeye, but beet greens contain a ton of iron– more so than spinach! Iron helps to move oxygen throughout the body, therefore helping prevent anemia and fatigue. As a high fiber food, beets promote healthy digestion by helping clean out the gastrointestinal system.
Select beets whose roots are firm, smooth, and deep in color. The smaller the beet root, the more tender it will be. Avoid beets that have bruises or soft/wet areas. The appearance a beet’s greens does not reflect the quality its root, but if you plan to eat the greens, you’ll want ones that are crisp and vibrant. Most beets are deep red, but not all! Chioggia beets, also known as candy striped beets, have striped pink and white interiors. Yellow-hued Golden beets taste sweeter and less “earthy” than red beets.
The beet root and beet greens should be stored separately. Cut most of the beet greens off of the root, leaving only a little stem to prevent the root from softening. Store beets for up to three weeks in the refrigerator. Store beet greens for up to four days (wrapped in plastic or in a sealed container) in the refrigerator. If they become wilted, you can revive by soaking in cold water for 20 minutes before cooking.
The earthy taste of beets goes beautifully with crumbled cheese and fresh lemon juice. Try this creamy/tart combination in this a lively beet salad. Olive oil and garlic give boiled beets with sautéed beet greens savory depth.
Chilled Beets with Sour Cream from Real Simple
6 medium beets, tops trimmed
1 tablespoon plus ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons vinegar of your choice (apple cider or Champagne)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup sour cream
1 sprig fresh dill
Place the beets and 1 tablespoon of the salt in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until a paring knife can be inserted smoothly into a beet, about 25 minutes, depending on size.
Drain and rinse under cold running water until beets are cool enough to handle.
Remove the skins. Place beets in bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until cool.
Slice the beets in half lengthwise. Arrange the halves on a serving plate.
Drizzle with oil and vinegar, then sprinkle with the remaining salt and the pepper. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and dill.
Photo credit: Yuri Huta