Using the whole beet

(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

Most Americans know beets from alphabet books. Some have had canned or pickled beets. Only a few know how to prepare the bunches of beets plentiful at farmers’ markets and roadside stands this time of year.

You can use the whole beet: roots, leaves, and stems. Roots are great roasted or boiled. Stems can be added to stir-fries and skillets. The greens have great flavor and a good, sturdy texture similar to Swiss chard. They can be prepared like any other greens: sautéed, braised, even juiced. They are wonderful in autumn salads and egg dishes like quiche or frittata.

Native to the sandy shores of the Mediterranean, beet greens have been eaten since prehistoric times. The Romans were the first to cultivate them. Centuries later, French chefs saw potential in the sweet delicacy. Today, beets are common fare throughout most of Europe.

Bright crimson-red beetroots look rough on the outside, but once cooked they are delectably sweet, soft and buttery, with higher sugar content than sweet potatoes or carrots. Raw beets have a crisp texture similar to carrots and can be shredded into salads. They are very nutritious and fairly low in calories. Fresh beets contain twice as much folic acid and potassium as canned beets, because these nutrients are lost in the canning process.

With 55 calories per cup, beetroots contain lots of fiber, potassium, manganese, folic acid, and vitamins A and C. Betacyanin, the dye responsible for the bright crimson color of red beets, is a powerful cancer preventative.

With just 19 calories in half a cup, beet greens are even more nutritious than the roots. They have almost double the potassium of the roots, as well as lots of fiber, folic acid, vitamin A and iron. Some recent studies show that beet greens may help smokers quit by suppressing nicotine cravings.

Both greens and roots are a good source of powerful antioxidants, flavonoids and other important phytochemicals that protect against heart disease and certain cancers, especially colon cancer.

At the market, look for small, young, brightly colored beets that are smooth, hard and no more than four inches in diameter. Large beets may be tough. Bright green leaves with rich red veins running through them should be attached.

Beet greens deteriorate quickly, so eat them first; beetroots will keep longer in your fridge or root cellar. Store greens unwashed in the refrigerator, and wash in several changes of water prior to use to remove clinging sand. They cook down, so one pound of beet greens will yield less than two cups when cooked, or about four to five cups when shredded for a salad. Stems and greens can be cut up and sautéed. They go well with strong seasonings like garlic, ham, or chilies and are great braised together with other greens, such as chard, mustard or turnip greens.

To prepare the roots, wash gently, being careful not to cut or remove the skin, root or bottom inch of the stem; this ensures that the flavor, color and nutrients are preserved. Beetroots can be roasted, boiled, steamed, served hot or cold, pickled, made into soups, salads or even sandwiches. There is beet jam, beet cake, beet relish and even beet wine. A little raw grated beet will dress up a tossed salad. They’re very accommodating, complementing almost any ingredient you think to add.

When roasted or boiled, the skins will slip off easily as soon as the beets are cool enough to handle. If using beetroots raw, you will need to peel them with a potato peeler. Leave baby beets whole; cut the larger ones in cubes or slices. Season and serve. They’re great with just a little butter and salt, or with fresh herbs: parsley, mint, chervil or dill are all good choices.

If you eat a lot of beets, you may see red in your urine or stool. This is nothing to worry about, but a harmless condition called beeturia.

Use caution when handling beets, since betalains, the red dye in beets, can stain. You don’t want to get it on your clothes, and you may want to wear gloves when working with them.

Whole Beet Quiche

Ingredients:

1 beet with stems and greens

1 potato

A little butter or oil for the pan

2 strips bacon (optional)

1 apple

3 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt, optional

1/3 cup cottage cheese

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Directions:

In skillet, cook 1 or 2 strips bacon until crisp. Remove and set aside.

For the crust, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pour about a tablespoon of the bacon drippings into a pie plate. Use to grease bottom and sides of plate (or, oil pie plate if not using bacon). Peel beet and potato. Shred coarsely using a food processor or hand grater; you will need about 3 cups. Place in prepared pie plate; pat into bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 375 degrees about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and lower heat to 325 degrees.

For the filling, wash and chop beet greens and stems. Add to bacon drippings in skillet; cook, covered, on low until soft. Core and dice an apple, and add.

In bowl, beat eggs with a little salt; beat in cottage cheese.

Layer contents of skillet on top of beet-potato nest in pie plate. Pour in egg mixture. Top with feta cheese and reserved bacon.

Bake until eggs set and cheese melts, 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove from oven. Let cool five to 10 minutes before slicing.

Serves three to four. Serve with a tossed salad.

Beet and Lamb Skillet

Ingredients:

1 small bunch beets with greens

1 onion

1 teaspoon oil or butter

1/2 pound ground lamb (or another ground meat like beef or pork)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 apple (washed, cored & diced – no need to peel) or 1/2 cup applesauce

1/4 cup sharp Cheddar cheese

1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Directions:

Peel and dice the onion. Set aside.

Peel some of the beets and dice into 1/2″ cubes (you need about a cup or two). Set aside.

Wash beet greens and stems and chop into 1 or 2 inch lengths. Set aside.

Heat oil or butter to just coat bottom of skillet.

Add onion, ground lamb, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low 5 minutes.

Add diced beets and cook, covered, another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Wash, core and dice the apple.

Stir in beet greens and stems and diced apple. Continue cooking, covered, until softened, about another 10 minutes.

Stir in cheese and cook one to two minutes to melt. If using applesauce in place of apple, stir it in with the cheese.

Remove from heat and stir in the cider vinegar. Serve over pasta or with a side of boiled potatoes.

Serves two to three.

Vegetarian option: omit lamb. Add 1 1/2 cups cooked beans towards the end of cooking. Increase cheese to 1/2 cup.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.

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