Cooking With Beets

General Cooking Techniques: Serve beets cooked fresh, or preserve plain or pickled. Beetroots have small amounts of vitamins and minerals, while beet greens are an excellent source of Vitamin A and calcium.

According to the University of California at Berkeley Wellness Encyclopedia of Foods and Nutrition, beets have the highest sugar content of any vegetable, but are low in calories. Beetroots contain vitamin C and folacin, key nutrients for good heath. And beet greens, eaten like spinach, are excellent sources of vitamin A, calcium and iron.

Beets can be prepared as a hot side dish, in soups such as borscht, and in salads, and they can be pickled. They can be boiled, steamed, micro waved or wrapped in foil and baked.

Beetroots usually are served boiled and buttered, pickled or in salads, adding color to meals. There is little color loss if they are not pared or cut before cooking.

Table beets contain only about 30 calories per 1/2 cup sliced beets, and are a good source of folic acid. Beet tops, high in vitamin C, may be used as food and are prepared in the same manner as spinach.

Note: Beet tops and spinach also contain oxalic acid. Consuming large amounts of either with a low calcium diet can cause a calcium deficiency and diarrhea. It is best to eat a balanced diet to avoid this problem. Use tender young beet leaves as the oxalic acid content increases in older plants in late summer and fall.

Sometimes light colored zones appear in beetroots. These zones are natural but are more pronounced in hot weather. The zones disappear during cooking.

Beet Soups: Borscht is the most famous of the beet soups and there are many variations. You can use either beef stock or chicken stock. You can dice, slice, or grate the beets. You can use sour cream and/or yogurt. You can use grated cabbage and/or grated or diced cucumber. You can eat it hot or cold. Flavoring can include parsley, dill, or lemon juice.

Cooking Beet Greens: Wash beet greens in several baths of cool water to make sure all grit or sand is gone. Put greens in large, covered pot over medium heat. The moisture on the leaves is usually sufficient to steam them. Cook until they are just wilted. If there are small beets attached, add more water and cook until they are just tender. Serve as you would spinach.

One variation is to chop the just barely cooked greens and combine them with some sautéed chopped onion, a couple of chopped hard boiled eggs, some chopped cooked beets, and a little vinegar. Serve hot.

Red Flannel Hash: From the colonial period in New England comes red flannel hash or beet hash. Simply prepare your favorite beef or corned beef hash (canned hash will also work) and add grated cooked beets (about 1 to 3 ratio beets to hash. Slowly simmer the hash until it is heated through and serve with a little vinegar sprinkled on top (using ketchup on this dish is definitely un-American)

Pickled Beets: Beets are easily pickled. Most recipe books will have at least one recipe. Make the pickling brine according to your favorite recipe. Pack cooked, peeled beets in hot, sterilized jars. Pour brine over beets leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath canner for 30 minutes.

Serve Beets Cold: Beet and Onion Salad - mix cooked beets, sliced or whole, with some sliced red onion and some lettuce leaves, and add some vinaigrette dressing. You can marinate the beets in the vinaigrette over night in the fridge. Some variations include adding pink grapefruit sections and walnuts. Another cold dish mixes sliced cooked beets with some yogurt, parsley and chives.

Using Beets Raw: Beets are great raw, adding color and flavor to a salad. If you have a food processor, you can peel the raw beet (if it's small and young you don't even have to peel it) and make nice shoestring strips for a salad or for a stir-fry.

Cooking Beets: You have two choices, boiling or baking. Each approach gives you a different flavor.

Baking beets: First, scrub the beets. Then cut off the leaves and stems at about one inch above the top of the beet. Don't cut off the tail. Put the beets in a shallow pan or on a large double sheet of foil, sprinkle with a few drops of water or oil, cover tightly with foil, and bake. You will find a difference in the flavors (both good) by baking at either 300 degrees or at 375 degrees. They are done when the skins are clearly separated from the bulb. It may take an hour or more depending on the size of the beets.

Boiled Beets: Cut tops off but leave at least 1 inch of stem. Wash beets well, but do not peel before cooking. Put in pot with boiling water and depending on size, cook for 1/2 to 2 hours. They are done when the skins slip off easily.

You really can't overcook beets: To save energy and substantially reduce cooking time, you may cook fresh beets in a pressure cooker. It only takes about 12 minutes for small beets and 18 minutes for larger ones. When the beets are cooked, the skins slip off easily. Rinse each beet briefly under cold water before trying to peel it, so you don't burn your fingers.

Serve Beets Hot: Fresh baked or boiled beets are delicious plain with butter and/or a little lemon juice. A tasty addition is 3 Tb brown sugar and 2 tsp of orange rind tossed with the beets just before serving. Many recipes for beets required that you cook them first and then use them in a recipe whole or sliced. Sour Cream Sauce - Mix a few cups of sliced beets with some sour cream, a little horse radish, some chopped onion or a very little garlic and heat in a double boiler. You can add bacon bits to this for a different taste. Another variation is to mix diced cooked beets with diced fresh apple with chopped onion and sauté till warm. Add the horseradish, sour cream and lemon juice and serve over lettuce.

Harvard beets: there are many recipes for a sweet and sour sauce to be served with hot beets. Boil some fresh cranberries in orange juice and cinnamon until the cranberries burst. Puree the mixture in a blender and add honey to taste. Simmer sliced beets in this sauce for a few minutes and serve. Another variation is to sauté horseradish and cider vinegar (2 to 1) and add lots of fresh dill or dried dill to taste; then coat sliced cooked beets; serve hot or cold

Yet another variation is to dice some just barely cooked beets (boiled) and mix with some horseradish, vinegar and honey. Then bake in a 350 oven for 30 minutes; gives you that sweet and sour flavor of Harvard beets.

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