Don’t listen to the naysayers. It is perfectly possible for someone who does not like beets to go on and lead a productive life, probably. O A distaste for beets does not absolutely guarantee a dreary existence of loneliness and despair. Why, some people who disdain beets have even gone on to have nearly ordinary lives with some measure of personal fulfillment and a fleeting hint of happiness. O But really, the surest way to find joy and love is to eat beets. O Beets are full of all sorts of things that are good for you (vitamin C, fiber, potassium, manganese and more). But more important than that, they taste good.
No, they taste great.
Beets are a paradox. They are earthy, almost foresty. But they have the highest sugar content of all vegetables, so they are also sweet. It is this unusual combination of flavors that makes them so versatile.
You can puree them into soup, either hot or cold. You can serve them roasted or you can put them into salads. You can even turn them into a dip.
I started with the dip first, following the rationale of this syllogism: Everybody likes hummus. Some people like beets. Therefore, hummus made out of beets will appeal to a lot of people, I hope.
Hummus made from beets is just like hummus that is made from chickpeas, only it has beets. You even serve it the same way, with pita wedges, crudites or as a spread in a vegetarian sandwich.
And it is even easier to make than ordinary hummus, because it has fewer ingredients. All you need to do is mix the beets with tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and salt, and blend them until they are silky smooth.
Of course, you have to roast the beets first, as you must do with nearly every way of serving them. Just wrap them in foil (some recipes need them to be rubbed in olive oil first) and roast them in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until you can pierce them to the center with a knife or a fork. Then, when they have cooled down enough that you can touch them, simply rub the skin off with a paper towel.
My second dish, Spicy Roasted Golden Beets, was even easier. I did not even need the aluminum foil – I just tossed the beets with cumin, paprika, salt and a touch of chili powder, and roasted them on a baking sheet.
The hardest part was finding the golden beets. I had to call two stores. But I think it was worth it, because golden beets are a little sweeter even than red beets, and their taste is milder, less earthy.
White beets are also mild, but they can be hard to find. Candy-cane beets, which are technically called chioggia, are the most fun of all because they are made of concentric red and white circles. However, you can never count on finding them.
I went back to red beets for my next dish, Beet and Carrot Soup, because part of the dish’s appeal is its gloriously vibrant color.
It is a vegetable soup – all the beet dishes I made are vegetarian – but the beets somehow make it more than that. You begin by sauteing carrots with onions and leeks, then adding garlic and vegetable stock. Only after the flavors have melded do you mix in the roasted beets before pureeing it all.
The late addition of the beets assures that they are the predominant flavor in the soup, with the aromatics in the background and the carrots providing depth and a hint of sweetness.
The original recipe calls for this soup to be served hot, but I tried it both hot and cold, and it is hearty and satisfying either way.
For my last beet dish, I took full advantage of the classic combination of beets and oranges. It is a simple salad, with beets mixed with a dressing of olive oil and sherry vinegar while they are still warm to absorb the flavors. The beets are scattered with pieces of orange over a bed of peppery arugula.
A dusting of cheese on top – the original recipe calls for ricotta salata, but goat cheese will also do nicely – and a sprinkling of sliced almonds, and you have a wonderful, light salad.
The combination of sweet flavors (the orange and the beets), tartness (the orange and the vinegar), earthiness (the beets and the nuts), creaminess (the cheese) and bite (the arugula) is enough to convince even the most partisan naysayers of the worthiness and versatility of beets.
ROASTED BEET HUMMUS
Yield: 8 servings
1 pound (about 3 medium) beets, trimmed and cleaned
1 / 2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Wrap the beets together in aluminum foil, making sure to seal the foil completely (if the beets vary dramatically in size, wrap them individually so you can take them out of the oven one by one as they finish cooking).
3. Place the packet of beets on a rimmed baking sheet or in a roasting pan, and roast until the beets are tender and a paring knife pierces the center without resistance, 45 minutes to 1 hour, or up to 1 1 / 2 hours for extra-large beets. Let the beets cool to the touch.
4. When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins with a paper towel (it may help to use a paring knife to peel them back).
5. Cut each beet into quarters and place them in a high-speed blender or food processor. Add the salt, lemon juice and tahini and blend on high speed until smooth. Scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula and adjust the salt to taste. Add the olive oil and blend again to combine. The hummus will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Per serving: 44 calories; 3 g fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 4 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 150 mg sodium; 9 mg calcium.
Recipe from “The Vegetable Butcher” by Cara Mangini
SPICY ROASTED GOLDEN BEETS
Yield: 4 servings
2 bunches of medium golden beets, trimmed and quartered
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 / 2 teaspoon cumin
1 / 2 teaspoon paprika
Pinch chili powder
1 / 4 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss beets with oil, spices and salt. Transfer to a baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Serve warm.
Per serving: 195 calories; 8 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 5 g protein; 29 g carbohydrate; 21 g sugar; 9 g fiber; 358 mg sodium; 51 mg calcium.
Recipe by Sonnet Lauberth, insonnetskitchen.com
BEET AND CARROT SOUP
Yield: 6 servings
2 beets, trimmed and scrubbed
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
Salt and pepper
3 1 / 2 cups peeled and chopped carrots
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium leek, chopped (white and light green parts)
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups vegetable broth
2 sprigs thyme
Feta cheese, crumbled
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub the beets with a little olive oil and salt and wrap in aluminum foil. Roast until tender when pierced with a thin knife, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Open the foil and let rest until cool enough to handle.
2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the carrots and cook until soft and light golden brown, 7 to 9 minutes.
3. Add the onions and leeks, cover and sweat until they are translucent, 3 to 5 minutes more. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broth and thyme.
4. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer about 20 minutes. Remove the thyme.
5. Peel and coarsely chop the beets. Stir them into the soup. Working in batches if necessary, transfer the soup to a blender and puree until smooth. Or blend in the pot with an immersion blender until smooth.
6. Serve hot or cold, garnished with crumbled feta and a sprinkling of cilantro.
Per serving: 109 calories; 5 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 2 g protein; 15 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 624 mg sodium; 48 mg calcium.
Adapted from a recipe from “Vegetarian Cooking,” by the Culinary Institute of America
ROASTED BEET SALAD WITH ORANGES AND ALMONDS
Yield: 4 servings
2 pounds beets, trimmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 orange, Cara Cara or navel
2 ounces (2 cups) baby arugula
2 ounces ricotta salata or goat cheese
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap beets individually in aluminum foil and place on rimmed baking sheet. Roast beets until skewer inserted into center meets little resistance (you will need to unwrap beets to test them), 45 to 60 minutes.
2. Remove beets from oven and carefully open foil packets. When beets are cool enough to handle, carefully rub off skins using paper towel. Slice beets into bite-sized pieces.
3. Whisk together oil, vinegar, 1 / 4 teaspoon salt and 1 / 4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Add beets, toss to coat, and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
4. Cut away peel and pith from orange and cut fruit into bite-sized pieces. Add arugula and orange pieces to the beets and gently toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to platter and sprinkle with cheese and almonds.
Per serving: 207 calories; 12 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 17 mg cholesterol; 6 g protein; 20 g carbohydrate; 13 g sugar; 6 g fiber; 161 mg sodium; 80 mg calcium.
Recipe from “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook” by America’s Test Kitchen