BASHFUL BLUSHING BEETS
We feature beets this issue because they would never boast of their many health benefits without a little coaxing. Beets, also known as beetroot, are high in potassium, folacin, and fiber, yet low in calories. Their edible leaves offer protein, calcium, fiber, beta carotene, vitamins A and C, and some B vitamins. They're known in the arena of natural healing for their ability to purify the blood and the liver.
Beets make lasting friends almost instantly. Once you've tasted fresh beets in the peak of their season from June through October, you'll delight in their sweetness and versatility. We should mention that they have the highest sugar content of all in the vegetable kingdom.
They can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, roasted, and sauteed. If you visit farmer's markets on a regular basis, you might be able to take home some of the specialty varieties that are harvested early in the season, such as baby beets and golden beets. While beets are at their best in season, they are available throughout the year because they store well. Avoid the exceptionally large ones, though, or you'll be chewing on woody cores with little sweetness.
Helpful Hint: A little kitchen savvy for beets goes a long way. Beets are famous for blushing or, more commonly, bleeding. To reduce bleeding and preserve more of the flavor as well as the nutrients, cut beet tops off, leaving at least 1" of stems intact. Wash them thoroughly, and boil them whole and unpeeled, leaving the root on as well. Cooking time will vary with size, with the larger beets requiring up to one hour to soften. Cool them enough to handle, cut off the root and the stem ends, and rub off the skins. You can then slice, chop, dice, or grate the beets for your recipe.
Roasting: To roast the beets, its best to peel them and cut off the root and the stem ends. Slice them, toss them in a tablespoon or two of canola oil, and spread them out on a roasting pan. Roast at 400 for about 25 - 30 minutes. To add a little pizzazz, sprinkle with salt and some dried thyme, dill, marjoram, or oregano when tossing them in the oil prior to roasting.
Steaming: One of the easiest ways to cook beets is oven steaming. Wash the beets thoroughly and cut off the greens, leaving a 1" stem attached. Put them whole into a deep baking dish. Cover with water. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil with the dull side out. Bake at 350 for 1 hour or until fork tender. When cool enough to handle, cut off the root and stem ends and simply rub off the skins. The beets are now ready to eat. If your cooking time is limited, steam the whole beets on top of the stove in a steamer basket. Keep the burner on high and check the water level in the bottom of the steamer--you don't want to run out of water and burn those blushing babies!
Boiling: By now you are probably aware that cooking the beets whole is the best way to retain more of their exceptional flavor and nutritive value. Put the beets into a deep saucepan and cover them with water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to medium, and cook 20 - 60 minutes until fork tender. Cooking time will depend on the size of the beets.
Raw: Preparing raw beets requires some advance ritual. First, put on an apron and roll up your sleeves. Next, tell yourself that for that entire day you will be the proud owner of a pair of red hands that look like participants in a Vaseline Intensive Care commercial. Then, get to work on the beets. For salads, cut off the root and stem ends, peel and coarsely grate the beets. Place them on the top of an individual salad as a garnish or serve them in a separate bowl to be passed at the table. If you toss the beets into the salad, the entire salad will blush. Sometimes this may be a desired effect when you want to give your veggies a rosy glow.
Sautéing: For this method, you will have to endure the red hand initiation after cutting into the raw beets. First, wash the beets thoroughly, slice off the stem and root ends, and peel the beets. Using a firm chef's knife, cut the beets into 1/4" slices, stack the slices two or three high, and dice. Sauté in a large skillet or wok with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and a little water. Stir frequently and add more water as needed to cook beets through. Salt, pepper, and some herbs of your choice can be added during the sautéing. To help the beets retain their color, add a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar to the skillet at the start of sautéing.
The Greens: When purchasing fresh beets, remember that the greens and the stems are not only edible, but tasty and good for you, too. Prepare the greens as close to the purchase time as possible to retain all those health benefits. Wash them thoroughly, and coarsely chop. Pack them into a smaller saucepan than you might think you need--one bunch of beet greens cooks down to practically nothing! Add enough water to cover the bottom of the saucepan by 1/2". Squeeze in the juice of one half lemon and add a little salt. Cook uncovered over high heat, which allows some of the oxalic acid in the greens to escape, a desirable process, since oxalic acid inhibits the absorption of calcium contained in the greens.
Now for a tasty recipe that features beets as the centerpiece of a cold-weather luncheon or a heartwarming starter on a chilly evening.
HOT BEET BORSCHT
Borscht is an old-world favorite. It can be served hot or cold. Since we've officially entered the winter season with its crisp temperatures, we prefer the borscht nice and hot. However, this is an equally refreshing cold soup for summer.
1 medium onion, thinly sliced, slices quartered
1 t. salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lemon, rinds reserved
3 quarts (3 liters) water
1 lb.(453 gr) unpeeled potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
1 T. light vinegar (rice, apple cider)
Salt to taste
Date sugar, dehydrated maple sugar or maple syrup to taste, starting with 1 or 2 t.
Lemon juice to taste