Also known as Beetroot. Biennial grown as annual for swollen root and young leaves. Hardy.
Value: Slightly higher in carbohydrate than most vegetables, good source of folic acid and potassium.
The roots are eaten raw— try them shredded as a crudité—or cooked and served fresh or pickled. Young “tops” can be cooked like spinach and used as “greens.”
They add color and flavor to salads, particularly the red, yellow, white, and bicolor varieties. Bean and beet salad is particularly tasty. Wash in cold water, keeping root and stems intact: do not “top and tail” or damage the skin, as bleeding causes loss of flavor and color. Boil for up to 2 hours in saltwater, depending on the size, and then carefully rub off the skin. It is delicious served hot as a vegetable; otherwise cool for pickling or for a fresh salad.
Beets can also be baked, and are the basis for borscht soup when cooked with white stock. They also make excellent chutney. Freeze small beets that are no more than 2 in. across. Wash and boil, skin and cool, then cut roots into slices or cubes and freeze in a rigid container. You should use within 6 months. In a plastic bag or the crisper in the refrigerator, they stay fresh for up to 2 weeks.
Spicy Beet Salad
1½ lb. beets, washed and trimmed
Juice of half a lemon
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon orange-flower, water
2 tablespoons olive oil Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley Lettuce (mixed field green)
Cook the beets in a steamer for 20 or 30 minutes until tender. Peel and slice them when cool, reserving the liquid that accumulates on the plate. Toss them in lemon juice and coat with the spices, orange-flower water, and olive oil, together with liquid. Season, cover and chill. To serve, toss with the parsley and arrange on individual plates on a bed of lettuce leaves.
Used in folk medicine as a blood tonic for gastritis, piles, and constipation; mildly cardio-tonic. Recent research has shown that drinking at least one glass of raw beet juice a day helps control cancer.