Seasonal Eats: Bringin' Mad Beets
An assortment of market-fresh beets (Heather Parlato/LAist)
I’ve wanted to write about beets for awhile now, because they’re a cool-season crop that’s available fall, winter and spring here in California. They taste great on their own, highlighting or contrasting from their natural sugar content, and they add bright colors to all kinds of foods. Best known are red beets, but a spin through your local farmer’s market will reveal golden beets and the candy-striped Chioggia, an Italian heirloom, as well.
Beets are closely related to swiss chard and spinach, though beets are better known for the roots than the leaves. Beet greens are entirely edible and quite delicious, with a flavor like swiss chard and a more delicate texture. Go ahead and substitute beet greens for the swiss chard recipes we posted previously, just reduce the cooking time. In fact, if you’re at a famer’s market and see a customer request that the greens be twisted off their bunch of beets, ask if you can have them and take home some free food! Or, if you have a little room for container gardening, consider beet microgreens.
As good as beets can be, I’ve heard a fair share of beet disdain by people who were made to eat plain, mushy canned beets as children and thought that was the extent of their potential. This is a very sad narrative, not least of all because beets have little reason to be in a can in the first place. If you were abused in this fashion, my plea is that you forgive the beet itself, buy it fresh, and give it a second chance. Though beets are higher on the glycemic index than some veggies, their load is only 5 and they’re a great source of Vitamin C, Iron, Magnesium and a good source of dietary fiber, Folate, Potassium and Manganese.
The main preparations for beets are to roast, steam, or simmer if you’re cooking, and mandoline or julienne if you’re not. Roasting brings out a great flavor through the beet sugar, and pairs well with some simple seasoning, like roasted beets with cumin. Add roasted beets to salad with oranges & beet greens. They also make a great side or roasting partner for your main dish—take your pick between these three that use both the root and the greens: roasted Halibut, grilled flank steak or chicken with beets & orange butter.
Some unique uses for beets I found include this amazing roasted beet & garlic tart or these beet & carrot latkes which may be made with potatoes as well. Bake them in a cake? Certainly: Vegan beet bundt cake or Chocolate beet cupcakes? I dare say, why not?!
Preservation projects: if you’re looking to use beets as a condiment, this beet chutney can be used fresh or canned for later. Try out these ginger pickled beets for something spicy, or roasted pickled beets for something savory. The Amish tradition of pickling beets and adding hard-boiled eggs to stain them could put an exciting twist on your Easter eggs this year!
Roasted Winter Vegetable Soup (Heather Parlato/LAist)
Roasted Winter Vegetable Soup
3 golden beets, quartered lengthwise
3 red beets, quartered lengthwise
1 small or ½ large fennel bulb, quartered or eighthed lengthwise
4-5 medium carrots, cut crosswise to ½” pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
3-5 cloves garlic, sliced or minced
1 rind of parmesan cheese [if you have it, it’s optional]
2 celery stalks, sliced thin crosswise
3-5 fennel stalks, sliced thin crosswise
6 cups vegetable stock [did you make some last week?]
¼ cup brown or wild rice
¼ cup mung beans or lentils
stalks & greens from 2-3 beets, cut to 1” strips crosswise
olive oil & white wine vinegar
grated parmesan, optional
Set the beets, carrots and fennel in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, and sprinkle some salt over the top. Roast at 350 degrees for 45 minutes uncovered. (I did this in separate dishes because I wasn’t sure if they’d all cook evenly, but in the end they did, so go ahead and mix together.)
About 10 minutes before your roasting veggies are ready, sauté the chopped onion in a large soup pot, in about 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and vinegar, adding the garlic after about 2 minutes. Sauté 3 minutes more, then add the celery and fennel stalks, turn the heat down to med-low, cover and sweat the veggies 5 minutes.
Roasting root veggies (Heather Parlato/LAist)
Option: if you want a non-vegetarian version, cut or crumble 2 spicy Italian sausages into your onion sauté, above.
Remove your roasting veggies from the oven and add to the pot along with 6 cups of vegetable stock and the parmesan rind (this is for flavor, but pull it out as you would bay leaves before eating). Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium, and add the rice and beans. Cover and simmer 20 minutes to cook everything through.
Add the beet stalks and greens, cover and simmer 10 minutes more. Test a beet with a fork to make sure it’s at your preferred texture (some prefer al dente, some prefer soft) Season with vinegar, salt & pepper to taste, and serve! Congratulations, your soup is pink!