September 6, 2012

What an interesting vegetable. I was introduced to beets at a party with one of my friends from work. I must admit that culturally, beets are not prevalent in the Southern cooking that I am used to. When I say Southern, I mean the southern United States. If you ask me about greens, okra, and sugar cane, then we can talk. Bring me a beet, and I am thinking, what in the world is that? Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure some folks down south grew and ate beets, just not my folks. So, I was at this party, and I saw this red circular food on one of the plates at the buffet. Well, I am adventurous when it comes to food, so I gave it a try. That was all it took for me. I loved the firm yet soft texture, bright color, and of course the sweet taste. I later learned that I was eating pickled beets. How delicious!

So what’s so good about beets?

Beets are low in calories. They are like the gift that keeps on giving. You can eat the beetroot (the bulb portion) and the beet greens (the leafy part up top). Beetroots contain fiber, manganese, and potassium, and are known to be a great source of folic acid. Beet greens provide you with vitamins A and C, and also contain calcium and iron. For a taste reference, beet greens have often been likened to chard, another leafy green that can have red veins running through the leaf. Beetroots, on the other hand, have a high sugar content. They are one of the sweetest vegetables. You can cook the beetroot, or eat it raw. Another beneficial thing about beetroots is that they are known for having cancer-fighting qualities (particularly colon cancer), and a detoxifying effect on the liver.

What are beets, and where did they come from?

When I first saw fresh beets, I thought they were like potatoes or rutabagas. Beets are actually in the family of leafy greens, because of the beet greens. The beets we eat now originated from wild sea beets, in North Africa, Asia, and Europe. Beets grew in popularity when they became cultivated in Rome, then became even more popular when it was realized that the beet could be converted into sugar.

How do you select and store beets?

Beets come in different colors, shapes, and sizes. The most commonly known beet is the magenta colored beet (the cancer-fighting beet), but there are also golden, white, and a red and white combination beets. Beets tend to be round or oblong in shape, and can vary in size depending on type. When selecting beets, opt for firm and brightly colored beetroots with a tapered and intact taproot (or tail). If you will be storing the beets for longer than 3-5 days, then remove the greens, as they pull moisture from the fruit. Beetroots, without the greens, can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks. If you plan to keep the greens, be sure that the beet greens are healthy and not limp. If the beet greens are limp, then remove them. Store your beets in the refrigerator. If you are purchasing beets in a jar or can, be sure to read the label for the best nutritional bang for your buck. Some pickled beets are high in sugar.

How to prepare beets?

If you are using fresh beets, they can be a challenge to work with. You will need to be careful with them, and I recommend you wear gloves to protect your hands from the juice, as it can stain your hands (the staining on your skin should come off with a little lemon juice and water). When working with fresh beets, you have to clean them (I like either a commercial fruit and veggie wash, or a mix of vinegar and water). It is best to peel beets after they have been cooked, as the juice from the beets can stain skin and clothing. I tend to opt for pickled beets in a jar, or beets that have been steamed and peeled then vacuum sealed in the refrigerated veggies section. Remember not too cook the beets too long, so that you don’t lose the nutritional benefits.

Now that you know a little bit about beets, take a look at the list below for some fun ideas for what you can do with beets. Don’t forget to let us know what you think about this article in the comments section below. Bon appetite!

Things to do with beets:

1) if you are new to beets, introduce them slowly, such as adding small slivers to a salad (try arugula, cucumbers, beets, and goat or Romano cheese, with a balsamic vinaigrette)

2) bake thin slices of beets and sweet potatoes to make chips (season as you like)

3) add diced beets to a veggie wrap or pita

4) add beets to a smoothie

5) add beets to a veggie pizza

6) add beets to a pasta or seafood salad

7) try pickled beets with low fat cubed cheese

~ Cece


Field Guide to Produce: How to Identify, Select, and Prepare Virtually Every Fruit and Vegetable on the Market by Aliza Green

Total Nutrition: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need Edited by Victor Herbert, M.D., F.A.C.P. and Genell J. Subak-Sharpe, M.S.

The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Michael Murray N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno N.D. with Lara Pizzorno M.A., L.M.T.

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