If beets had feelings, they would probably be pretty depressed. Passed over at farmers' markets and produce aisles and met with disappointment by beet-weary farm-share (CSA) members, this homely root must be jealous of its charismatic cousins - sweet corn, butternut squash, and heirloom tomatoes.
Beets have so much going for them, they should be the most popular kid in the class: They're low in calories and high in folate and beneficial antioxidants. Their sweetness can reduce the amount of sugar in your cooking. Because they're hearty and filling, beets can help stave off munchies. Plus, they're an affordable way to eat your veggies.
Few people realize that when you buy a bunch of beets, you are actually getting a two-for-one deal. Instead of throwing the leafy, green tops away, use them the way you would kale, spinach, or Swiss chard. The flavor and texture is similar, and so is the superfood-quality nutrition.
One of the best ways to make use of the greens is to chop and cook them in some olive oil with plenty of garlic. Before serving, season well with salt, and squeeze a lemon on top. You could also use the beet greens instead of basil to make a version of pesto sauce.
The most classic cooking methods for beets - steaming and roasting - are also the simplest. In both cases, you'll want to trim and scrub the roots as a first step. For roasting, coat them with a thin film of olive oil, and wrap them in foil before placing into a 400-degree oven and cooking them until tender, usually about an hour, depending on size.
Many people who never liked beets before enjoy roasted beets. Cooking them that way concentrates their sweet flavor and gives them a drier, dense texture. Steaming beets involves nothing more than setting them in a tightly covered pot with a little simmering water until they are tender, perhaps 20 minutes.
Once beets are cooked, peel them (a messy job - consider wearing gloves and an apron), cut them into wedges or chunks, and stash them in the fridge for quick salads and sides. You could also substitute these cooked beets for chickpeas in your favorite hummus recipe for a fuchsia take on that popular dip. Steamed or roasted beets will stay good in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. They pair well with salty cheese and toasted nuts and are usually welcome on a salad.
Let's assume you've been on your roasted-or-steamed beet grind for weeks now, and you are looking to mix up your relationship. The beets understand - even the most committed vegetable lovers suffer from autumn-onset beet fatigue. If you feel there's no way you could eat another beet, here's some good news: You can drink them.
Kvass is a traditional beverage made from fermented beets that comes from Eastern Europe. It's gaining popularity here as a healthy alternative to soda, because it's probiotic and sugar-free. If the word fermentation makes you afraid, relax. Amanda Feifer's recipe for Bull's-eye Beet Kvass, from her cookbook Ferment Your Vegetables, renders the process foolproof for beginners. This is a great way to use up any surplus beets, because the kvass will stay good in your refrigerator almost as long as a can of Coke.
Another smart strategy for making the same old beets feel new again is to look to classic beet dishes and then twist them on their head. That's what author Kristin Donnelly did with her vegetarian borscht salad in her new book, Modern Potluck. The trademark flavors of this soup are made over into a bright and fresh-tasting vegetable dish. Roasted beets, carrots, and onions are tossed with dressing seasoned with lots of fresh dill. This hearty salad can be served warm or at room temperature - ideal for the shoulder season between hot and cold weather.
Finally, when you're over beets but they still are the best bargain at the market, or they keep arriving at your door through your CSA, you have no other choice. You'll have to pull off the magic trick of turning something you hate into something you'll love. And it can be done with Louisa Shafia's recipe for sweet and smoky beet burgers from her book The New Persian Kitchen.
There's nothing particularly Persian about this patty, made meaty with a combination of walnuts and lentils and made scarlet with grated beets. Other than the telltale vivid hue, you'd never know the beets were in there. In a small, informal survey of avowed beet-haters who have been persuaded to taste this burger, it has a 100 percent approval rating to date. Many reformed beet-haters have even requested it again. You may want to double the recipe: These patties (uncooked) freeze perfectly and make for healthy, speedy meals.
Bull's-eye Beet Kvass
Makes 9 cups
4 large Chioggia beets (4 pounds)
2 organic, preferably unwaxed, lemons, quartered
8 inches ginger, unpeeled, chopped
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
4 bay leaves
2 allspice berries
4 juniper berries
Up to 11/2 tablespoons kosher salt, to taste (optional)
9 cups filtered water
1. Remove the crowns and greens from the beets and reserve for another use. Trim any unattractive bits of root and any soft spots, but leave beets otherwise unpeeled.
2. Cut each beet into quarters or eighths, but make sure the pieces are at least 1 inch thick. Scrub and quarter the lemons. Place the ginger, coriander, bay leaves, allspice berries, juniper berries, and salt (if using) in a 1-gallon jar, add the beets and unsqueezed lemon wedges, and pour in the filtered water to fill to 2 inches below the rim. Place the lid on your jar but don't fully tighten it so that carbon dioxide (a natural part of the fermentation process) can escape.
3. Leave it to ferment at room temperature for 7 to 10 days. Give the jar a little swirl every day to prevent surface yeasts from forming. Once you're happy with the acidity and flavor, strain the liquid into a clean jar, cover, and chill before drinking.
Per cup: 115 calories, 4 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams sugar, 1 gram fat, no cholesterol, 674 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.
Vegetarian Borscht Salad
Makes 6 servings
1/2 pound carrots (8 to 10 medium), scrubbed and cut into 2-inch chunks
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, each cut into 10 wedges
11/2 pounds beets (about 4 large), peeled and each cut into 8 wedges
4 teaspoons red wine or sherry vinegar
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
Sour cream, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.
2. In a large bowl, toss the carrots with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the carrots in one section of one of the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with the onions, followed by the beet wedges, arranging each of the vegetables in its own section of the baking sheets. Cover the baking sheets with foil.
3. Roast for about 20 minutes, until the vegetables are nearly tender. Remove the foil and rotate the baking sheets. Roast for 10 to 20 minutes longer, until the vegetables are nicely tender and browned in spots. Let cool until warm.
4. Return the vegetables to the bowl and toss with the vinegar. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add the ¼ cup dill and toss again. Spread the salad out on a platter. Dollop sour cream on top, garnish with more dill, and serve.
Per serving: 146 calories, 3 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams sugar, 7 grams fat, no cholesterol, 216 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Sweet and Smoky Beet Burgers
Makes 8 burgers
1 yellow onion
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil, plus extra for searing
1 cup peeled and grated beets (approximately 1 beet)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
1/2 cup cooked green lentils, rinsed and drained
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cooked short-grain brown rice or white sushi rice, at room temperature
1. Slice the onion to a thickness of 1/4 inch. In a medium skillet, sauté the onion in the oil over medium-high heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until it starts to darken and caramelize. Turn down the heat slightly and add the beets along with the garlic, walnuts, raisins, and paprika, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a food processor and pulse several times until chunky.
2. In a large bowl, combine the onion mixture with the lentils, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Replace the food processor bowl without washing and add the rice and egg, and pulse to form a coarse puree.
3. Add the rice mixture to the onion-lentil mixture and mix well with your hands.
4. Lightly oil your hands and divide the dough into 8 portions. Shape each portion into a patty just under 1 inch thick.
5. Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and add oil to coat the bottom. Place the burgers in the skillet and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. Gently flip the burgers and turn down the heat to low. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, until the burgers have a firm, brown crust. Serve hot with your favorite condiments.
Per serving: 420 calories, 12 grams protein, 55 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams sugar, 18 grams fat, 20 milligrams cholesterol, 122 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber.