Eating the World

In Season: Beets

Whether you're a CSA devotee, a farmers' market weekender or consider ketchup a
veg, we'll bring you fresh inspiration for how to prepare our local produce.

This week's harvest: Beets

Beets are very sensual. They are sweet, earthy, dirty, hard when raw, tender when cooked and just plain sexy. Tell me I'm not telling the truth. If you don't know beets, you should get to know them. They really taste different and so much more alive than the canned varieties you might have had in the past. Today we'll learn how to tame these wild beet beasts and finish with a big smile on our faces.

When are beets in season?
December to May.

Selecting, cleaning and storage tips:
Beet roots can handle a lot of handling, so you probably don't need to worry about the roots, they should look smooth and full of moisture. You might find yellow ones, deep red ones and the pink ones are those striped chiogga beets. They're real purdy.

Since the roots are the easy part, this means you'll turn your attention to the leafy tops. Make sure those look smooth and crisp. You will want to eat the greens. Remember how much you love swiss chard? Beet greens are very similar. They're wonderful.

Just like carrots, as soon as you get them home, separate the tops and roots and store them separately until ready to use. Like with all the greens, wash, dry and store in a plastic bag with a kitchen towel thrown in. The roots can dry out so make sure to store them in a plastic bag.

How to devour your beets:
You can eat beets raw or cooked. They are quite hard so shredding them is probably the easiest way to eat them raw. Here's a great looking grated carrots and beet recipe with hazelnut oil.

When cooking the beetroot, you can roast, boil or steam them. Usually you want to cook the beets with the skin on because the red ones will bleed all over the place if you don't.

If you have the time, roast them whole, dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper and wrapped in foil. If you cook baseball sized ones in a 350 degree oven, it'll usually take about an hour or so. You know they're done when a knife easily glides through the root. Sometimes the large ones can take longer - like 2 hours.

I don't have the time to babysit my food most days so I have taken to cutting them smaller and dealing with the beet blood or taken out my pressure cooker. If you have one, you can place a steamer basket at the bottom, add a few inches of water and cook with the lid sealed about 20-30 minutes. Easy peasy. Once cooked, and you get ready to take the skin off, get ready for some stained hands. You could put gloves on or I like to give my hands a rub down with some olive oil. That usually makes hand washing much more effective.

When the beets are cool enough to handle, you can take the skin off - the skin is not delicious. Here are a few methods:
1. Using a paper towel and little pressure with your hands and they'll slide off in pieces.
2. Take the beets to the sink and run it under water and rub with your oil rubbed fingers.
3. If you are skilled with a knife, you could cut it off but you'll probably cut away more of the root than the skin if you go this route.

Once skinned, chop or slice and eat
. Sometimes I eat them one by one standing above the cutting board as I get each one peeled. That's my fancy way of eating them. Clearly I need to learn patience. If you can wait and want to serve them to anyone, try any of these recipes.

You can stain your pasta a pink hue.

Pickle them.

There's always the ubiquitous beet/goat cheese/walnut/greens (usually arugula) salad. I'm personally so over the idea of it but there's a reason it's on the menu everywhere. It has all the components of a perfect salad. It's soft, sweet, tart, crunchy and creamy. Try this one from Suzanne Goin.

For something similar but with a twist, try Paula Deen's Roasted Beet Salad with Cocoa Vinaigrette.

One I'm dying to try: Thyme Roasted Baby Beets with Mint Vinaigrette over at Kiss My Spatula.

These Candied Beet Chips look promising. I always love making my own junk food.

In the tradition of vegetables mixed into cakes like zucchini or carrot cake...I've tried making chocolate beet cake before and while it's fun in theory, sometimes you just want a chocolate cake, and you just want beets, but not together. Here's one if you want to give it a go.

My stand by salad is still Beets with Orange Vinaigrette. I love it.

A friend made me borscht one time and I absolutely adored it. It gets a bad rap 'cause it sounds very foreign and clunky but it's simple and comforting. Borscht can be hot or cold and there are a lot of variations. Here's her recipe that I loved so much. My addition to the recipe would be to add the chopped beet greens toward the end.

BORSCHT Camille Craw

1/2 to 3/4 Head of Cabbage
1 Can of String Beets
1 to 2 Medium Carrots
3/4 to 1 Medium Onion
1/3 C Tomato Sauce
1/8 C Flour
1/8 Cup Vinegar
1 Bay Leaf
1 to 2 Large Cloves of Garlic
Chicken Bouillon or Stock (6-8 cups)
Salt and Pepper
Plenty of Vegetable Oil

Cut onions into strips and shred carrots on a cheese grater. Sautee the onions and carrots together in some oil until cooked through.

While your onions and carrots are cooking, make 6-8 cups of chicken stock using your bouillon depending on how thick you want the borsh (I usually use about 6 1/2).

Shred your cabbage cabbage with a knife and cook it in the chicken stock for about 15 minutes.

Combine your beets, vinegar and tomato sauce in a small pan and warm them, mixing well.

Put your 1/8 cup of flour in a pan and heat it slightly with some oil. Then add hot stock to it to thin it out until it's soupy.

When all the above is done combine everything in the pan of cabbage and chicken stock.

Crush your garlic into the mix, salt and pepper, add your bay leaf and put it in the flour/oil mix you just made. Let it all simmer for 10-15 minutes. You should also let it sit a little after that (they recommend 1/2 hour).

It is a tradition to put a dollop of sour cream in your bowl with the borsh, but it's up to you.

Jennifer Woods is a local food advocate with over 10 years working in the AZ food industry, and currently works for Crooked Sky Farms, a CSA produce farm based in South Phoenix.

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Jennifer Woods
Contact: Jennifer Woods