At one time, beets grew wild throughout the northern hemisphere, from Britain to India. Initially only the leaves were utilized; later the roots were recognized for various medicinal purposes. Today, beets are grown across the country from Massachusetts to California and thrive in the Midwest from June to October. Robust in color, flavor and texture, the ruby red bulbs sprout rich leafy greens that are entirely edible. Beets boast the highest sugar content of any vegetable and taste earthy and sweet when cooked.
Look for firm, unblemished beets with smooth skins and crisp, vibrant leaves. To keep them fresh, trim the stems and leaves from the beet, leaving about one inch of the stems attached. Refrigerate the beets and greens in separate plastic bags in the crisper drawer. The beets will keep up to three weeks while the leaves will stay fresh up to a week.
To prepare beets and greens, trim off the stem and root ends from beets. Wash thoroughly under cool water, then cook as desired. While some claim that roasting results in the most intense flavor, beets can be prepared in other ways as well. See our recipe below to learn how to roast beets.
To steam beets, add two inches of hot water to a saucepan large enough to hold a steaming basket. Cover the pan and heat to boiling over high heat. Place the unpeeled beets in a single layer in the steaming basket, then place the basket inside the pan. Cover the pan and cook until the beets are tender, adding more water to the pan as necessary. The cooking time can vary greatly depending on the size of the beets – baby beets will take about 20 minutes while larger beets can take up to 1 hour or more. They are done when they are easily pierced with a knife.
Plunge the cooked beets in cold water. When cool enough to handle, gently peel the skin off the beets while still warm – the skins will slip off easily. It is wise to wear plastic gloves to prevent the red beet color from staining your hands.
Like many other dark, leafy greens, beet greens are rich in vitamins A and C. They have a mildly sweet flavor similar to spinach and Swiss chard. Because of their sturdy texture, beet greens are succulent braised with bacon and shallots or sautéed with butter, garlic and lemon juice. Cut the stems into 1- to 2-inch pieces before cooking. Try roasting chunks of peeled beets with oil and a sprinkle of brown sugar to accompany any braised or roasted meat. Steamed, chilled and diced beets make a mouth-watering salad of their own when tossed with balsamic vinaigrette and served over a bed of fresh spinach with goat cheese and walnuts. Or, simply serve cooked beets with a little butter and lemon juice alongside grains. Raw beets can be shredded using a food processor then tossed with shredded carrots, chopped fresh parsley and your favorite vinaigrette.