"Deadly Serious" Beets Are Ripe and Read to Eat

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.” – Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

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Beets aren’t the most popular vegetable. They’re kind of like the smart kids who wear plaid pants and glasses. They tend to hang in the background, quietly waving and calling out, “Hey, over here. You’ll like me if you try me. Don’t let your scars from eating grocery-bought canned beets as a youngster keep you from giving me another chance. I’m actually very sweet and sassy.”

And sweet they are. With some of the highest sugar content of any vegetable and millions complaining about a raging sweet tooth, it’s time beets were given their due. I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes enjoy a little sweet somethin’ somethin’ after dinner, and roasting beets as a side dish renders any post-meal hankerin’ obsolete. Like other root vegetables that have a deep, earthy, sweet flavor when cooked such as carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips and parsnips, beets truly are one of nature’s candies.

Join Me, Brothers and Sisters

I’d like to think that there is a beet revival taking hold. And now is the time to worship this almighty member of the goosefoot family. Deep purple or gold, I’ve always loved beets, but nary tasted a better bunch than the ones we’ve been receiving in our CSA (community support agriculture) share from Cramer Organics.  Thankfully, beets are in season through October, so you have several more weeks to join the choir.

I suspect that many people just don’t know how to prepare beets in a way that brings out their natural, earthy flavor and smooth sweetness and may be (rightfully) scared of the texture of the aforementioned canned beets. Personally, I tend to cook ’em one way: thinly slice or julienne, coat lightly in olive oil and sea salt and roast ‘til slightly browned. The sweet/salty combo - heaven. The roasted slices turn into a beet chip of sorts, although I don’t recommend roasting ‘til they get completely crispy. 

A very common autumn (and winter) dish at my house is any root vegetables I can get my hands on, prepared as above. Any combination will do and talk about in-season and easy –  root vegetables keep for quite a while, so having several on hand for a “root roast” is always a great way to get dinner going pronto.

When shopping for beets, be sure to choose ones deep in color with firm roots, no bruised spots, and fresh greens. Once in your kitchen, cut the greens away from the root, leaving an inch or so of stem, which will keep the greens fresher longer and will prevent the root from bleeding.

Speaking of greens, just as I mentioned in my last Simple, Good and Tasty post, Ravishing Radishes, don’t toss the edible (if slightly bitter) leaves of those bulbs. When young and tender, beet greens are great in salads. They can also be steamed or sautéed, just as you would spinach or chard. Beet greens are very high in antioxidants as well as calcium, iron, phosphorous and magnesium and also contain a good amount of vitamins A, B-complex and C. A word of caution – beet greens contain high levels of oxalic acid and if eaten excessively, can inhibit calcium metabolism. A way to mitigate the acidity is to eat the greens with plenty of quality fats, such as olive oil, butter or avocado.

The Color Has It

As their deep, earthy color suggests, red beets are a wonderful blood tonic and purifier and improve circulation, strengthen the heart, help regulate menstruation, balance hormones during menopause and improve anemic conditions. They also cleanse the lymph and the upper and lower digestive tracts. Very high in vitamin A, beets help treat liver stagnancy and act as a demulcent, soothing sinuses and mucous membranes during those dry winter months. (This makes me consider using beet juice instead of salt in my neti pot this winter!)

Get Rooted

Root vegetables have been long known for their grounding, strengthening and stabilizing energy. Meats do the same for many people, and a meal of steak and roots gathers scattered energy and makes many feel like they can conquer the world.

According to Steve Gagne, author of Food Energetics, “It is the root that has the power to stabilize a plant, anchoring it and providing it with nourishment. And it is in your intestine, your root, where vegetable roots impart their energetics. Through absorption and assimilation, roots supply plants with vital nutrients, and if adequate nourishment is not available, the whole plant will suffer. However if the soil is rich and vital, the plant will thrive. This scenario is no different than your ability to digest and assimilate your food and environment.”

Gagne continues, “The private nature of the root, demonstrated by its work underground in darkness, is energetically manifested in us as stamina, confidence, grounding (physically and mentally), persistence and strength. On a spiritual level, roots help to define the inner meaning of our biological existence and secure the foundation for spiritual continuance into the unfolding flower of spirituality.”

Salad Redux

As the weather gets cooler, I challenge you to start rethinking salads. Leafy greens do not always a salad make! Roots are in season and can be purchased locally for several weeks to come and because they store so well, who knows, you just might be enjoying that local salad with snow on the ground. Here’s a good one to try, from Martha Rose Shulman of the New York TImes:

Orange Aioli with Grains and Roasted Beets

2 organic oranges

1 whole egg

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 large garlic cloves, green shoots removed, mashed in a mortar and pestle with 1/2 teaspoon salt

2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (to taste)

1/2 cup canola oil

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 or 2 bunches red, yellow or chioggia beets, the beets roasted, the greens stemmed, washed and steamed or blanched just until tender

Cooked wheat berries, bulgur, barley or quinoa

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Using a potato peeler, remove the orange zest, without the pith, from the oranges, and place on a baking sheet in the oven for 45 minutes or until completely dried. Check often, and be careful that it doesn’t burn. Allow the peel to cool, then grind in a spice mill. Measure out 1 tablespoon.

2. Mash the garlic in a mortar and pestle with the salt, and add 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice. Let sit for 10 minutes. This will soften the sharpness of the garlic.

3. Place the egg in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the mustard, and turn on the machine. When the egg is frothy, begin to slowly drizzle in the canola oil and then the olive oil with the machine running. Stop the machine, and add the garlic, remaining lemon juice and orange peel. Process until well blended. Taste, adjust salt and remove to a bowl. Serve with roasted beets, peeled and cut in wedges or sliced, their cooked greens, and cooked bulgur, barley, quinoa or wheat berries.

Yield (aioli): 1 cup, serving six to eight.



Jill Grunewald is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor, health writer, and passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture. Her practice, Healthful Elements, focuses on bio-individual health and whole-foods therapy, with specialization in the endocrine system and hormones, particularly thyroid and adrenal health. Her last post for Simple, Good and Tasty was Ravishing Radishes Make Sweet and Spicy Snacks.