Sunday, March 11, 2012

How to: cook beets

I spent 15 minutes today thinking about how I was going to start this blog post. Why? Well, I'm not going to be showing you some super amazingly awesome dessert that took me hours to make. And I don't have a really great story as an intro to my post. Nope, not today. Today, I bring you beets.

Do not fear the beet!

I'm sorry, I know beets don't seem sexy. And if you've ever eaten them out of a can then they're definitely not sexy. But in their natural state, with their pointy root and bright red and leafy green top, how could you not consider that absolutely beautiful? And they're insanely delicious, like candy of the earth.

The thing about beets though is that a lot of people don't know how to cook them. Which is always such a shock to me. Honestly, beets are one of easiest things that you could ever cook.

Last week I was lucky enough to snag some beets with their greens still attached at my new favorite grocery store in Chicago. If you happen to buy beets like this, for the love of god, please do not discard the green tops!! They're healthy and delicious (very similar to a collard green).

So today I'll be showing you how to cook up beets, tops and bottoms. First things first, cut the leafy tops off the beet root.

Roasting Beet Roots

When it comes to beets roasting is THE way to go. It not only concentrates their naturally sweet flavor, it's insanely simple. All you do is rinse the beet root (no need to peel), put it on a piece of foil, rub a few teaspoons of olive oil on the skin, and wrap up the foil nice and tight.

Cleaned beet (at right), oil-rubbed beet (at left) and wrapped beat (left back). 
Notice the greens that I did not throw away. We'll be cooking those up in a second...

Place the foil-wrapped beets in a glass bowl or baking dish, and cook in a 350 degree oven for 1 to
1 1/2 hours, or until a knife can easily pierce the beet. (My smaller beets took about an hour, the larger one took closer to an hour and a half.)

Perfectly roasted beet

Once the beets are cool enough to handle, go ahead and remove the skin by using your fingers or a knife. The skin peels off oh-so-easily from the soft roasted beet.

Can you see the burgundy red flesh peeking through??

Just be warned, the beets can stain your fingers a bit. But honestly, it's not as bad as peeling raw beets. The magenta juice washes off your fingers quite easily.

Nature's paint

And that's it. Your beet is now ready to eat. :) One of my favorite ways to eat beets is to slice them up and add them to a spinach salad with balsamic vinegar and goat cheese. The sweetness of the beets compliments the sweeter vinegar and tartness of the cheese.

Steaming Beet Greens

Now, let's get back to those beet tops. We're going to use those to create southern inspired "collard" greens. A bit of heat and vinegar and sweetness. So good!

I love how the red stems of the leafy beet tops provide a pop of color in a normally monochromatic dish.

The red stems of the beet tops are similar to celery, 
so they're sauteed with onions before adding in the leafy greens.

People are often times afraid to approach certain foods, and I think beets sometimes fall into this category. Which is a shame, because not only are they absolutely delicious, they're ridiculously easy to prepare (tops or bottoms).

Yours in savoring the last of the winter produce before my favorite season begins,

Roasted Beets, from Cooks Illustrated

1bunch beets , about 2 pounds, greens removed and reserved for another use, leaving a 1-inch beet top

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Wash beets thoroughly. Rub with a bit of olive oil (optional) and wrap in foil. Place on a baking sheet or roasting pan/dish and cook until beets can easily be pierced with thin knife, about 1 hour for small to medium beets.
3. Cool slightly and remove skins with your fingers or a small knife.

Beet Greens, adapted from Simply Recipes

1 pound beet greens
1 strip of thick cut bacon, chopped (or a tablespoon of bacon fat), optional
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup of water
1 TBSP granulated sugar
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2.5 TBSP apple cider vinegar

1. Thoroughly wash beet greens by filling the sink or large bowl with cold water. Remove the greens, dump out the water, and repeat.

2. Drain greens and cut away any heavy stems. If the stems aren't too woody, cup them into 1/2" segments and set aside. Cut leaves into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

3. In a large skillet or 3-qt saucepan, cook bacon until lightly browned on medium heat (or heat 1 TBSP of bacon fat), if using. If not, simply heat 1-2 TBSP of olive oil. Add onions, cook over medium heat 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions soften and start to brown. If using the stems from step 2, add them after your onions have been cooking for a minute or two.

4. Stir in garlic. Add water to the hot pan, stirring to loosen any particles from bottom of pan. Stir in sugar and red pepper. Bring mixture to a boil.

5. Add the beet greens, gently toss in the onion mixture so the greens are well coated. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 5-15 minutes until the greens are tender. Stir in vinegar. (For kale or collard greens continue cooking additional 20 to 25 minutes or until desired tenderness.)


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