Food for Thought: Getting the Best from Beets

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: The Everyday Gourmet—Cooking with Vegetables

By Chef Instructor Bill Briwa, The Culinary Institute of America

Beets have an image problem, but it’s not their fault—most people just don’t know how to cook or season them properly. With a bit of preperation, you can learn how to turn this overlooked ingredient into a new family favorite.

Fresh beets

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Why Eat Beets?

The health benefits of beets can’t be …well, beat. Beets are:

  • rich in nitrates, which improves blood circulation and blood pressure, and can help your brain function better
  • a source of a plant alkaloid called betaine, as well as the B-vitamin folate, which may reduce your risk of heart disease and improve kidney function
  • full of betacyanin, the pigment that gives beets its pretty purple hue, which may help protect against common carcinogens
  • a fiber-rich food and we probably don’t need to highlight the benefits of fiber

This is a transcript from the video series The Everyday Gourmet: Cooking with Vegetables. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

Seeing Red

Beets are red because of pigments called anthocyanin and betacyanin. Anthocyanin absolutely loves acidity. The red color will turn vivid and bright in the presence of acid. The problem is that the pigment in beets is soluble in water, so if you peel a beet and put it in water, all of the color washes away. Therefore, you need to leave the peel, root, and stalk on when you boil them so that the color stays inside until after it has been cooked when you are ready to peel it.

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Golden beets like acidity as well. The color is not as pronounced as it is for red beets, but golden beets will still become a little bit brighter in the presence of acidity.

Beets come in many different colors, such as red, golden, and white, and they can be cooked in many different ways, including juicing them raw, boiling them, and roasting them.

Beet Toppers

When you buy beets, they sometimes come with greens attached. The greens can tell a story about the quality and condition of the vegetable itself. If the greens are fresh, then you can be assured that the beet has been recently harvested. You can even cook and eat the greens.

Garden Beets

If the greens are still attached, they need to be removed before you cook them, but you should consider keeping them and using them the same way you might use Swiss chard or escarole. You could add them to pasta or to a pot of minestrone There’s a lot of nutrition and flavor in beet greens.

You can also remove the harsh, rough stems from the greens and chop them into ribbons. Then, blanch them in boiling, salted water for about three to four minutes.

Tips On Cooking with Beets

  • Wear gloves when handling beets because they will stain your hands.
  • While beets are still warm, you can use a towel to simply wipe away the skin.
  • To avoid staining, slice roasted beets on a paper towel, or use a cutting board that is designated for beets.
  • If you roast beets, add water to the bottom of a pan and add vinegar, which serves to brighten the color.
  • The flavor of cooked beets is full, and they taste earthy in a way that people aren’t used to, so make sure that the flavor of your seasoning is as aggressives.

Make the Best Boiled and Glazed Beets

proportions to taste

Ingredients

  • beets
  • salt
  • cider vinegar
  • orange juice
  • lemon juice
  • chicken stock
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • butter
  • lime juice

Cooking Instructions

To boil beets, start by putting them into a pot of water. Add salt to the water and then add some cider vinegar. Cook them until they are tender. Ultimately, when you pierce a beet with a knife, you want the knife to go in easily but, more importantly, come out easily. Therefore, if the beet clings to the knife, it is not done cooking.

As soon as they are cooked and are still hot from cooking, rub off the skin with a towel that you don’t care much about. The skin should come off very easily, but this process will stain the towel. You can also rub off the root and even the top, which has stalks. If you encounter an area of skin that does not come off easily, you can use a knife to scrape that portion of skin off.

cooking beets

The flavor of cooked beets is full, and they taste earthy in a way that people aren’t used to, so make sure that the flavor of your seasoning is as aggressive as the flavor of the beets by making a glaze that contains orange juice, lemon juice, chicken stock, and vinegar. Also add some sugar, which will dissolve almost immediately when you stir everything together.

Then, bring this mixture up to a boil and cook it until all of the liquid is gone. After about 20 minutes, it will turn into a thick, syrupy glaze. If you taste the glaze, it should have a sweet and sour flavor.

After tasting it, you might want to add some salt. With the heat on high, introduce the beets to the glaze along with a little bit of butter. The glaze should coat the beets so that they glisten.

Boiled and Glazed Beets

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Common Questions About Beets

Q: Are there any benefits to eating beets?

Aside from being delicious, beets are low-calorie and contain many micro-nutrients, with nitrates that studies have shown improve performance in athletes while also lowering blood pressure.

Q: Is it ok to eat beets raw?

Beets can be eaten raw and are often slightly sweeter and more delicious when eaten raw.

Q: Do beets have anti-inflammatory effects?

Beets can help with inflammation as they contain the nutrient betaine, which studies have shown lowers risk of inflammation.

Q: What is the healthiest method for preparing beets?

The healthiest method for preparing beets is generally thought to be a light steaming for around 15 minutes; however, other studies show that eating beets raw with an acid such as citrus delivers even more vitamins.

This article was updated on 1/13/2020

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