Monday, 27 May 2024

The Veggie Girl: Beets

Veggie Girl Esther Oertel this week offers tips on cooking with beets. Courtesy photo.


I just love the rich, earthy sweetness of beets, so much so that the mere thought of the deep burgundy globes can make me salivate.

Whether red, golden or the chiogga variety boasting red and white rings, these colorful root vegetables contain powerful nutrient compounds that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer.

Beet roots have stores of calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, carotene, B vitamins (including folate, important for pregnant women as it protects against birth defects) and vitamin C. Beet tops are even more nutritious.

The locally grown version of this late spring crop is available now. Sean Mooney of Full Moon Farms in Kelseyville presented his first-of-the-season beets at Saturday’s Steele Winery farmers’ market and he expects to harvest them through July.

While Mooney typically plants open pollinated crops on his organic farm, he was won over by the hybrid Red Ace variety for its sweet taste and longer growing season.

Like me, he loves his beets roasted and he often combines them with a medley of other roasted root vegetables such as carrots, onions and garlic.

Modern day beets are descended from the sea beet, a wild seaside vegetable that grew along the shores of the Mediterranean. Initially the leaves of cultivated beets were consumed and the root largely ignored.

Beets are related to Swiss chard and spinach and like its cousins, its greens are tasty and nutritious. Young tender beet greens may be used raw in salads; however, the older, tougher shoots should be cooked.

When cooking beets by any method (such as steaming, boiling or roasting), it’s important to leave the skins on to protect their flavor and color. These are easily removed afterward when loosened by the cooking process. Latex gloves are a handy way to protect your hands from red stains when handling them.

As mentioned, my favorite way to cook beets is to roast them. This method concentrates their flavor and combines their natural sweetness with the nutty, smoky, caramelized flavor that identifies roasted vegetables.

To roast beets, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prepare the beets for roasting by cutting off the greens (leave about an inch of stem attached) and the thin, tapering root. Scrub them well with a vegetable brush under running water to remove loose soil.

Place prepared beets on a baking sheet and allow them to cook for about 90 minutes if large and proportionately less for smaller ones. A baking sheet is important as beets may ooze juices in your oven if placed directly on the oven rack.

Beets are done when they’re soft to the touch and the skin pulls easily away, indicating that the beets have shrunk away from their skins. You can also test with a fork to see if they’re tender all the way through.

Be sure to allow the beets to cool for at least 15 minutes before removing the skin.

Many people enjoy tossing sliced roasted beets in a skillet with a little butter, which gives them a lovely shine. Add orange juice (a wonderful flavor with beets) and allow it to reduce. Or, instead, you may add a bit of balsamic vinegar.

Roasted beets are delicious when combined in a salad with greens, toasted walnuts and goat cheese. A simple vinaigrette dressing, such as one with tarragon, is a good accompaniment.

The beet’s sweet, earthy flavor stands up well to strong greens such as the peppery arugula and marries well with herbs such as tarragon, dill, chervil and chives.

Simple greens are transformed when pieces of roasted beets are scattered over the top like jewels. When matched with bits of bright orange roasted butternut squash, the effect is stunning.

Not everyone appreciates their taste as I do and some have a strong aversion to their flavor. In fact, my own dear husband says they taste like dirt. I look at him quizzically whenever he says this as I can’t imagine identifying them that way.

My research for this article found that his opinion may have some merit. According to Jeff Cox, food critic, gardener and author, beets grown in organic soil (that which is rich in decaying organic matter, such as compost) develop a “clean, woodsy, forest-floor” flavor, as opposed to the “dirty taste” they can acquire from soil low in organic matter.

Because I love beets in almost any form, I can’t verify this, but it’s interesting food for thought nonetheless.

Beets are natural detoxifiers and so are popular with those who juice fresh fruits and vegetables. A reader, DC, shared this favorite recipe for a juicer: 1 bunch of celery, 1 bunch of carrots, 1 (or 2) beets, 1 bunch of kale, 1 (or 2) apples, ginger and garlic to taste. (My reader adds a lot to make it hot like salsa.)

If you’d like to share your own juice recipe, please email it to me and I’ll be happy to include it in the column when that veggie or fruit is covered.

The recipe I offer today is Russian beet soup, or borscht. The recipe is from the Glendi International Food Festival held each September in Santa Rosa.

Because colder weather and more rain are on the horizon, soup seems appropriate. However, borscht can also be served cold and enjoyed in the summer heat.


This recipe makes about 2-1/2 quarts. Serve with a generous dollop of sour cream and snipped fresh dill.

¼ cup oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 quarts beef, chicken or vegetable stock

2 – 14 ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice

4 beets, grated

1 carrot, grated

1 white potato, grated

1 parsnip, grated

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

½ small cabbage, shredded

1 bunch fresh dill weed, chopped

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

Sour cream for garnish

In a large stock pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery and sauté until onions are translucent but not browned, about five minutes. Add garlic and sauté another minute, being careful not to burn it.

Add stock, tomatoes, beets, carrot, potato, parsnip, salt and pepper to pot. Bring to a boil, lower heat and cover. Simmer 30 minutes. Add cabbage and simmer another 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in dill weed (reserving a bit for garnish) and lemon juice.

Esther Oertel, the "Veggie Girl," is a personal chef and culinary coach and is passionate about local produce. Oertel owns The SageCoach Personal Chef Service and teaches culinary classes at Chic Le Chef in Hidden Valley Lake. She welcomes your questions and comments; e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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