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  • Writer's pictureChef Kelly Unger

Red Beet Season + Sweet, Savory & No Waste Ideas

The first wave of red beet season is here! We'll see these beauties again in the Fall. Their gorgeous deep magenta red color is letting you know how healthy they are! But all varieties are super healthy, even the less showy colored types. There are actually 10 types of beets: baby, Boldor, common garden, cylindra, golden, Mangel-Wurzel, red, striped, sugar, and white albino. And this is the time to get and enjoy the beet greens as well! Beets and loaded with nutrients, give you energy, help control your blood sugar and cholesterol, are detoxifying and help strengthen your bones. While the greens actually hold more nutrition than the bulb, the benefits of all of this nutrition will be gained whether you eat them raw, cooked or pickled. Beets are related to spinach, Swiss Chard and quinoa. You can see the close family resemblance to Swiss Chard if you look at the stems and the leaves. And all parts of the beet are edible and delicious!

While the simplest and most densely nutritious way to enjoy beets and their greens at this moment is to enjoy them together in a salad - boiled, unpeeled beet bulbs sliced into wedges on top of raw beet greens (sprinkled with walnuts or pecans) - there are so many other ways to enjoy beets, sweet and savory! Beets make a great meat substitute for plant-based eating and bring a welcomed earthy, minerally quality to any dish.

My favorite way to cook beets is to boil them. There are a few reasons for this. First, I rarely ever peel any vegetable. Not because I’m lazy, though I am, but because there’s a lot of nutrition living in the skin of all vegetables. And while my favorite color is pink, I dislike having my hands turn pink from handling beets. Boiling beets keeps the skin nice and soft, making it easier to eat, almost indistinguishable from the bulb. At this time of year when we’re getting them so super fresh (versus beets that have been in long term storage), skins are thin anyway so it’s a fool’s errand to peel them. After washing them, I cut the tops off for later use, trim the root end, and place them in a pot, adding enough water to cover them by an inch or less. If the bulbs are very large, I will cut them in half or quarters. I do not add salt to the water and I bring them to a boil, then boil them for 30 to 45 minutes or so (depending on size) until they are fork tender. Once the beets are cooked, I use a fork to handle them while cutting them. DO NOT DISCARD THE WATER! Remove the beets and continue boiling the water on medium heat for another 10 - 20 minutes to reduce the volume and concentrate the beet flavor. Remove the pot from the heat and cool the liquid. Store in a Ball jar in the refrigerator and use this beet water to drink in the morning as a cleanse, add to drinks for health, add to soups, broths or to cook pasta.

Roasting beets is another popular cooking method and while it makes for an easy preparation, I personally find that it can toughen the beet, especially the skins. While it does concentrate the flavor of the beet and make them sweeter, I don’t prefer this cooking method. BUT, if you do like roasting and you are a person who peels the beet skin, DON’T THROW THE SKINS AWAY! Peel the raw beets (again, not recommended but if you must) and place the fresh skins in vodka or tequila to color and flavor the alcohol. It will take about 24 to 48 hours to achieve the desired flavor result (hold in the refrigerator) and it will add a gorgeous twist to your cocktails! If you are not a tippler, add the fresh skins to your daily drinking water.

In addition to the preparations already mentioned above, here are my other favorite ways to enjoy boiled beets:

  1. thick slices used as a meat substitute in a sandwich or a burger

  2. diced beets tossed (while hot) in soy sauce, sesame oil and diced shallots served over rice, topped with sesame seeds and chopped parsley and cilantro (Beet Poke Bowl for those who came to that class)

  3. wedges served with roasted (unpeeled) carrots topped with chopped pistachios and dollops of goat cheese or bocconcini (tiny mozzarella balls)

And I’m not done yet! A very Southern way to use beets is to make a chocolate cake with them. The beets not only add nutrition and flavor, their color gives the cake an almost Devil’s Food kind of red glow. The original red Devil’s Food color comes from the natural reaction of the buttermilk to the cocoa powder, not tons of artificial red colorant. But I digress. Here are two chocolate beet cake recipes from Martha Stewart, one with dairy and one dairy-free. Enjoy!!! P.S. Find some gorgeous red beets at the Doylestown Farmers Market this Saturday, July 18th. The market is open every Saturday from 8am to 1pm. P.P.S. Make sure you're following me on social media! Facebook at The Rooster and The Carrot, and Instagram at Chef Kelly Unger. Thanks!

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