I admit, it took me years before I understood you, sitting in the background of the produce aisle with your oddly shaped and unappealing little heads, whose strangeness could not be mitigated by your lovely, long green limbs.
How should the uninitiated even begin to consider cooking such a thing?
In my case, my mom cracked the code.
One evening when she was visiting for dinner, I had the gall to serve her cryovacced beets from Trader Joe’s—you know, those precooked “baby” beets that come in a little plastic bag.
As she politely gagged her way through a plate of them, she said (very casually), “You know, dear, cooking your own beets isn’t really that hard.”
This is what she told me:
Take however many beets you want and slice off the tops and bottoms. If beets are dramatically different sizes, cut the larger ones in halves or quarters so that all pieces are roughly the same size and have the same cooking time.
(Reserve greens for other uses. They can be sautéed in olive oil with salt, pepper and a splash of balsamic at the end, tossed in smoothies, or stirred into soups.)
Place beets in boiling water and cook until fork tender. Depending on the size of your beets, this could take 15 minutes to a half an hour. Just keep checking every now and then. (To jazz up the flavor, toss in a t/l of whole cloves, 1 t/l whole peppercorns, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 t/l sea salt and 1 bay leaf.)
When fork tender, remove beets from the stove and drain. Rinse with cool water until you can handle them without burning your hands. Press against the outsides with your fingers—the skins should slip right off. If they don’t, simply slice off with a sharp knife or vegetable peeler. After all the skins are removed, cut into bite sized pieces or slice if desired.
Beware, this is a messy process! Your cutting board will look like a crime scene before you’re through. Make sure and wear and apron or a shirt you don’t care about—beet juice stains permanently.
Season with a little fresh cracked pepper and sea salt and you’re done! Or, take it to the next level by adding any or all of the following:
2 or 3 t/l balsamic vinegar
1 or 2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 red onion, sliced or chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced or chopped
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or hazelnuts
1-2 cups cooked quinoa
1/2-1 cup sliced oranges, apples or strawberries
chopped fresh dill or chopped fresh basil
Crumbled goat cheese (Obviously not vegan, but a fun option for vegetarians.)
Serve hot, room temp or cold. Fancy it up by placing on a bed of lovely greens—butter lettuce would be a perfect choice, as would arugula for a nice peppery flavor.
These beets will last up to a week in the fridge, so it’s a good idea to make a big batch and nibble on them all week long. Hearty enough with nuts or quinoa to eat as a main dish (especially with the sautéed greens on the side), and fancy enough to serve to guests.
*Beets are in season right now, so swing by your local farmer’s market and toss some in your handy dandy recyclable bag!
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Editor: Travis May
Photos: used with permission from John Zeising