The glory of beets

Roasting beets
This is the time of year when root vegetables are coming in. I’ve developed such a passion for beets, I feel I have to share some thoughts about cooking them.

I never knew what to do with beets until a friend actually told me how to cook them. “Just wrap them up in foil and roast them,” she said. “Perfect.”

It really is that easy. If I have a small bunch, I wrap them in foil (you’re keeping the steam in, so you’re not really roasting them, but this makes them cook very thoroughly and evenly,) and bake the foil-wrapped packet on a cookie sheet for about 45 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

Here I got very excited for fall beets and bought two bunches at the farmer’s market. They cooked just perfectly in a small cast-iron pan with a tight-fitting lid and an oven-safe handle. I let them cool on the counter for a while, then peeled them.

Peeling beets

As you can see, I just snip off the tops and the stringy bottoms with scissors, rinse them well in water, then bung ’em in the oven. There’s no point in scrubbing or trimming them further, because you’re going to peel them as soon as they’re cooked.

When I’ve roasted the beets later in the evening, I’ve even been known to bung the whole package (cooled on the counter, of course) into the fridge for peeling the next day.

Peeled cooked beets last a good long while in a sealed container in the fridge. I’ve kept them up to five days or so. They are cooked vegetables, after all, so they won’t last forever.

I add them to a green salad with cooked chicken and onion and cheese and they are brilliant. Probably one of the best salads of all time is sliced roasted beets, goat cheese, walnuts, and chicken. You could also eat them with meatloaf, or just about anything else you wanted.

Beets are so good for you. As you might guess from their rich red color they are packed with nutrients, including antioxidants. And they are filling and slightly sweet and rich. But my favorite thing about beets is their gorgeous color. I love the slippery feel of beets, I love the purple-red color that clings to my fingertips. They’re such a luxurious food.

Beets are perfectly cooked when they’re tender but not mushy. If you’re not sure if your beets are cooked, take a sharp paring knife and see if it slides gently into the center. If the beets resist any knife entry, they could use more cooking. If it slides all the way through, they’re already a bit overcooked. If they need more cooking, just wrap them back up or put the lid back on and bake some more. Remember that they’ll continue to cook a bit on the counter while they’re still wrapped and hot.

Small beets like these I think are perfect after 45 minutes – maybe even a touch less. The bigger your beets, the longer they would take to bake. Very big beets – fist-sized or bigger – will be tougher and not as tender to eat. I hate peeling a ton of tiny beets, though, so pick a size that looks easy to live with.

I peel with a sharp knife, but when the beets are done most of the skin just slides right off.

And if you live in an area where eggs pickled with beets are available (I went to high school in Pennsylvania Dutch country – I love purple pickled eggs!), don’t pass them by. And eat the beets too.

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