Bodacious Beets: Worth Their Weight in Gold

When I was a kid, grandma used to quip that beets were “worth their weight in gold” and since my grandparents always grew a huge patch of beets in their backyard garden, I figured we were the richest folks in the countryside! As far as eating a beet-rich diet went, we really were wealthy.

Beets belong to the same family as chard and spinach, the difference being that beets have a big meaty delicious root often referred to as “beetroot.” They range in colour from traditional blood red varieties to new hybrids like Chioggia, which is red and white and looks very much like a red onion when sliced, with a slightly peppery taste.

Other common types of beets such as Detroit Dark Red, Scarlet Supreme, Moneta, Red Ace and Rodina are all interesting picks for the table or the garden. Young beets, sometimes called baby beets, are about the size of a golf ball while large beets can be as big as baseballs.

Beets are loaded with vitamins – one of which is the antioxidant B vitamin that helps to prevent heart disease and cancer. They also dish up iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium, sodium, phosphorous and folic acid which recent studies have shown can help to ward off Alzheimer's disease. This may be why grandmother claimed that beets were good for the memory.

Being a relied upon herbalist in our neck of the woods, Grandmother was often called upon to treat everyday ailments and beets were one of her favourite garden picks that seemed to work wonders. I remember being sent to the garden often in the summer and fall, or to the root cellar in the winter and spring, to “fetch some beets for curing.”

Grandma vouched that there was nothing better than beets for building blood and purifying the system by flushing toxins from the kidney and liver. In her old black “doctoring journals,” it is written that beets are good for clearing blemished skin, relieving menstrual cramps, treating anemia, jaundice and food poisoning, relieving constipation, and warding off cancers. She even has it noted that beets can be used to treat gout and fade varicose veins.

Modern studies indicate that beets have amazing health benefits for every part of the body. Their high iron content is said to regenerate and reactivate red blood cells, supplying fresh oxygen to the body. Beets also contain copper and iron – the copper content helps break down the iron making it easier for the body to absorb.

Beets are praised as being useful in helping to regulate blood pressure and providing an effective defense against heart disease, helping to keep the arteries flowing freely by dissolving and carrying away harmful build-up. They are also reputed to help prevent certain birth defects.

Aside from their medicinal properties, there were several other reasons why my grandparents grew so many beets in their backyard garden. One reason, according to grandpa, was the fact that hardy beets are an excellent choice of produce for wintering in the root cellar. Grandpa would spread the unwashed harvested autumn beets on a bed of straw in the root cellar in the same fashion as other root vegetables like carrots, parsnips and turnips, and they would keep us in good eating right through to the next year's harvest.

In summertime, beet salads and cold beet soups are still my favourite luncheon dishes that, according to grandma's writings, are perfect for cooling down the body and helping to ward off sun and heat stroke.

During colder days of winter, hot beet soup or borscht (as it’s known in its native lands of Russia and Ukraine where this hearty soup originated) is good for warming the body and ridding chills. Borscht, in Grandma's book, is soup that cures the sick and puts “roses back into your cheeks.”

Today, I still love beets and although I don't have enough space in my small garden to grow enough to last me all winter long as my grandparents did, I do grow enough to keep me in fresh eating throughout summer and fall. When I run out of my own supply, I always make sure that those I buy at the supermarket or produce stand are organically grown.

Beets are readily available year-round at most supermarkets, with their peak season being mid-summer through to December. And keep in mind that if you get a good buy at the Farmer's Market in autumn on larger quantities, they are easy to put up for winter by storing in the root cellar or a cool dark place in the basement.

Beets are one of the few garden vegetables that you can eat from ‘head to tail’ as grandpa would say. The leaves can be used raw in salads or cooked in the same manner as any other greens or potherb and are delicious in stir-fries and quiches. The beet – or beetroot – is delicious raw. It can be shredded or cubed for salads or cooked in dozens of ways. Beets are delicious in soups, roasted, fried, boiled or steamed, and excess bounty can be canned or frozen like any other vegetable, pickled or made into zesty relishes.

To prepare beets for canning, pickling, freezing or other recipes calling for cooked whole peeled beets, just drop the washed beets, long dangling root-end or ‘tail’ still intact, into boiling water and cook until tender to a fork (about 20 minutes or longer depending on size). Pour into a sink full of cold water and cool. The tail can now be snipped off and the skins easily slipped off with your hands.

During their prime growing season, beets are usually sold in bunches with their leaves still attached. If greens are attached they should be bright and fresh for eating. If they are spotted, wilted or faded they should be discarded. The beet or beetroot should be firm and plump, not wrinkled or sprouting, and for utmost flavour the tail should still be intact as the beet will ‘bleed’ away some of its goodness if the long root is severed before cooking time.

What follows are a few of my favourite recipes from Grandma’s old collection. Try them and I'm sure you'll agree that when it comes to good health and great eating, in the book of vegetables, it's hard to beat a beet.

Triple Red Beet Salad

(serves 6)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups shredded beets
  • 2 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 2 shredded red skinned apples
  • 1 minced onion
  • Dressing
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 Tbsp liquid honey
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1) Mix first four ingredients in salad bowl. Prepare dressing.

2) Measure ingredients into small saucepan, heat to boiling and pour over salad. Cover with a plate and steep until cool.

Beets With Maple Syrup and Almonds

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8 to 10 small whole scraped beets
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cooking sherry
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • Pinch of cloves
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds

1) Grease small casserole dish with the oil. Sprinkle beets with water and roll in cornstarch. Place in the dish, shake until coated with oil. Blend remaining ingredients and pour over beets. Cover and bake in 350F oven for 15 minutes or until tender to a fork.

2) Sprinkle with almonds. If using larger or older beets, peel them thinly and quarter or cube.

Roasted Beets With Rosemary and Garlic

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8 to 10 small whole scraped beets
  • 2 cloves thinly sliced garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sprig of fresh rosemary

1) Grease baking dish with oil, put in beets and shake until all sides are coated.

2) Sprinkle with seasoning and top with rosemary. Bake covered in 350F oven for 15 minutes or until tender to a fork. Discard rosemary before serving.

Grandma’s Beet Soup (Borscht)

(Serves 6)

Ingredients

  • 6 beets, peeled and grated
  • 7 cups water
  • 2 minced onions
  • 2 minced cloves garlic
  • 1 cup tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Seasoned salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp honey

1) Put beets, water, onion and garlic in soup kettle. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour, mashing occasionally with potato masher as Grandma did – or strain the soup through a sieve into a clean pot, catching the beets.

2) Empty the sieve into blender with enough liquid to puree. Stir the pureed beets into the pot of beet broth and add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer over low heat for another 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish with fresh dill. This soup freezes very well.

Authentic Ukrainian Borscht

Here’s a chunky Old-World version of the soup that is easy to make and full of vegetables. Many Ukrainian cooks add lean cubed meat or sausages to the pot.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups water
  • 6 beets, peeled and chopped into soup-sized cubes
  • 3 cubed potatoes
  • 2 diced carrots
  • 1 diced parsnip
  • 1 minced onion
  • 2 cups cooked kidney beans
  • 2 chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cups chopped cabbage
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp honey

1) Put all ingredients into soup pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Beet Hashbrowns

Here’s something a little different. I loved these when I was a kid and still prefer them over traditional hashed-browned potatoes. Be sure to cook them until they are super crispy.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups shredded raw peeled beets
  • 1 minced onion
  • 1 tsp basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Flour
  • Vegetable oil

1) Put beets, onion and spices in bowl and toss with enough flour to coat. Mix with your hands until all shreds are evenly floured. Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a heavy bottomed skilled. Empty beets into skillet and flatten with spatula. Cook until crispy on the underside.

2) Slide onto plate, flip and return to pan, cooking until other side is crisp – adding a bit more oil, if needed. Cut into wedges and serve. Goes great with horseradish instead of traditional ketchup.

Grandma’s Super Easy Pickled Beets

Ingredients

  • 1 quart small whole beets
  • 5 cloves whole peeled garlic
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 whole cloves
  • Boiling water as needed

1) Put beets into kettle, cover with water and boil until tender to a fork.

2) Cool in cold water and slip off their skins and nip off their tails. Pack into sterilized 1 quart canning jar. Bring cider vinegar to a boil, add sugar. Pour over beets, drop in the cloves and add enough boiling water to cover. Put on lid, invert several times. Store in fridge at least a week before serving.

Ontario Borscht

The following recipe comes to us courtesy of Foodland Ontario.

This classic whole-meal soup is a real celebration of Ontario’s vegetable harvest. For a vegan version, you can use oil instead of butter and skip the sour cream garnish. Speed up the chopping and shredding time by using a food processor.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 6 Ontario Beets, peeled and shredded
  • 4 Ontario Leeks, chopped
  • 2 cups sliced Ontario Mushrooms
  • 2 Ontario Carrots, shredded
  • 2 cloves Ontario Garlic, minced
  • 1 Ontario Onion, chopped
  • 1 Ontario White Turnip, peeled and shredded
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 Ontario Potato, peeled and chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 7 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cups shredded Ontario Cabbage
  • 1 can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sour cream and snipped chives or green onion tops

1) In large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add beets, leeks, mushrooms, carrots, garlic, onion, white turnip, celery, potato and bay leaves; cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

2) Stir in broth and tomato paste. Bring to simmer and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Stir in cabbage and beans; cook for 5 minutes.

3) Season with vinegar, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste, adding more vinegar and sugar if needed. (There should be a nice sweet and sour balance.) Discard bay leaves. Place dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of chives on each serving.

4) Tip: This soup freezes well, so double the batch and freeze for later use.

Save

Write a Comment

view all comments

Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person. Required fields marked as *