As a kid, Derek Olsen detested beets. The ruby-hued root vegetable often was the source of his dinnertime dread.
“I had too many cans of beets as a child,” Olsen said. “I didn't want any more.”
But as an adult, he developed an appreciation for the humble beet. While the Omaha resident still shies away from canned versions, once he started trying fresh beets prepared in different ways — oven-roasted, for example — his view of the veggie changed.
“I have a newfound love for the beet,” he said.
Instead of saying “yuck” to beets, Olsen and others who once shunned them are saying “yum.” Beets have gone beyond the bland, mushy rounds that plopped out of a can and onto dinner plates. Food companies rolling out a variety of new beet products and restaurant chefs are highlighting the ingredient in creative ways, and this old-fashioned vegetable is seeing renewed interest among food lovers.
Dishes featuring beets, ranging from appetizers to sandwiches, appear on the menu at several restaurants, from national chains such as the Cheesecake Factory to locally-owned spots, including Dolce, J. Coco, Block 16, Foodies, Lot 2 and Kitchen Table.
Olsen and his wife own the Corner Creperie at 24th and Chicago Streets. The restaurant uses golden beets in its savory root crepe, which includes chèvre and toasted hazelnuts, among other ingredients. The beets are encrusted in kosher salt, then roasted in a 375-degree oven for several hours. The root crepe is one of the restaurant's most popular items, Olsen said, and appeals to vegetarians and carnivores alike.
Beets are wonderfully versatile, easy to prepare and can complement any meal. You can eat them boiled, roasted, grilled, steamed, pickled or raw. Yet many people still tend to overlook them, said Steve Bell, a chef-instructor at the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metropolitan Community College.
That might be because people either adore or abhor beets. Those who fall in the anti-beet camp usually had parents or grandparents who made them eat beets from a can, Bell said. He prefers them roasted or pickled and also likes to add grated or thinly-sliced raw beets to salad greens, accompanied with goat cheese, toasted nuts and a simple vinaigrette.
“A lot of people don't go near them, but I think everyone should,” he said. “This is the season for them.”
Beets are available year-round, but the best time to buy them is June through October when they're at their most sweet, tender and flavorful. Look for beets with smooth skin — free of blemishes, cracks, dark spots and soft areas. Fresh beets with the leafy greens intact can keep in the fridge for several weeks. Clean them right before use, Bell said, and use kitchen gloves when handling them since the juice can stain your skin.
The farmer-vendors of Big Muddy Urban Farms raise beets among the a variety of produce they grow on several plots of land throughout the metro area. The business distributes the food to members of its CSA (community supported agriculture) program, local restaurants and shoppers at the Gifford Park Neighborhood Market.
Beets should start arriving at the outdoor market within the next week or so, said Ali Clark of Big Muddy Urban Farms. The Gifford Park market is open from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Friday through September at 33rd and California Streets.
Clark and her colleagues grow three different beet varieties: Golden, Bull's Blood and Chioggia (sometimes called candy-cane beets due to their dark-pink-and-white ringed interior). Some of her favorite uses for beets include risotto and beet-apple pie. She always saves the leafy beet greens, which are delicious sauteed in olive oil with some garlic and salt and pepper.
“One of the best parts about beets is that you can eat the root and the greens,” she said. “They're one of my favorite vegetables.”
Those who dislike beets often say they have an unpleasant earthy, woodsy taste. Knowing how to select fresh beets is key to enjoying them, Clark said.
With beets, smaller is better. For a sweeter, milder taste, look for beets about 1½ inches in diameter. Bigger beets are older and therefore earthier.
“In our food culture, people tend to favor bigger as better,” she said. “With beets, smaller ones tend to be sweeter.”
Discovering new ways to prepare them also can help. Since beets suit a variety of cooking methods, consider experimenting with different techniques and recipes to find a beet dish you like.
Before cooking, you should scrub beets gently and wash the roots in running water to remove grit. They have a tough outer layer, so peel it with a knife or vegetable peeler. Cut the root into chunks, squares or thin slices, depending on your recipe.
One of the best ways to make beets more appealing is roasting them, said Maria Watts, marketing and community relations manager for Whole Foods Market in Omaha.
“Roasting them can really bring out their flavor,” she said.
In addition to several varieties of fresh beets in the Whole Foods produce department, the store carries a wide range of beet products, including vacuum-packed peeled and cooked beets, pickled beets in jars, beet chips and juices. Frosted cakes in the store's bakery get their pink or red color from beet juice, and shredded raw beets are offered as a topping in the store's salad bar.
“Beets are full of nutrition,” Watts said, “and they have great flavor.”
Recipe: Can't-Be-Beet Roasted Potato Salad
• 1½ pounds small red potatoes, halved
• 2 medium red onions, cut into wedges
• ½ teaspoon salt, divided
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1½ pounds fresh beets, peeled and cut into wedges
• 2/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
• 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
• 2 teaspoons brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
• ½ teaspoon pepper
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Place potatoes and onions in two 15 inch by 10 inch by 1 inch baking pans coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt; drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Place beets in pans (do not stir). Bake, uncovered, at 425 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
For dressing, in a small saucepan, combine the broth, vinegar, brown sugar, thyme, pepper and remaining salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, until reduced to 1/3 cup.
Transfer vegetables to a large bowl. Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat. Sprinkle with parsley. Yield: 9 servings.
Courtesy of Taste of Home
Spiced Pickled Beets
• 3 pounds small fresh beets
• 2 cups sugar
• 2 cups water
• 2 cups cider vinegar
• 2 cinnamon sticks (3 inches)
• 1 teaspoon whole cloves
• 1 teaspoon whole allspice
Scrub beets and trim tops to 1 inch. Place in a Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 25-35 minutes or until tender. Remove from the water; cool. Peel beets and cut into fourths.
Place beets in a Dutch oven. Add the sugar, water and vinegar. Place spices on a double thickness of cheesecloth; bring up corners of cloth and tie with string to form a bag. Add to the beet mixture. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Discard spice bag.
Carefully pack beets into hot pint jars to within ½ inch of the top. Carefully ladle hot liquid over beets, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles; wipe rims and adjust lids. Process for 35 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Yield: 4 pints.
Note: The processing time listed is for altitudes of 1,000 feet or less. For altitudes up to 3,000 feet, add 5 minutes; 6,000 feet, add 10 minutes; 8,000 feet, add 15 minutes; 10,000 feet, add 20 minutes.
Courtesy of Taste of Home
Tangerine & Roasted Beet Salad
• 2 pounds fresh beets
• 2 teaspoons olive oil
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1/8 teaspoon pepper
• 2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
• 2 teaspoons brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon grated tangerine peel
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon pepper
• 3 tangerines, peeled and sliced
• 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
• 6 Boston or Bibb lettuce leaves
• Additional grated tangerine peel
Scrub beets and trim tops to 1 in. Place in a foil-lined 8-in. square baking pan. Cover and bake at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until tender. Cool to room temperature. Peel and slice; transfer to a 15 inch by 10 inch by 1 inch baking pan. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, for dressing, in a small saucepan combine vinegar and brown sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 7-10 minutes or until reduced by half. Stir in tangerine peel, salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature.
For serving, arrange the tangerines, onion and beets on lettuce leaves. Drizzle with dressing; garnish with additional tangerine peel. Yield: 6 servings.
Courtesy of Taste of Home
Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Sherry-Walnut Vinaigrette
• 10 small red beets
• ½ cup sherry vinegar
• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
• ¼ teaspoon agave nectar or honey
• ½ clove garlic, finely chopped
• ½ cup walnut oil
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 1¼ teaspoon salt
• Ground black pepper, to taste
• 1 pound baby spinach, roughly chopped
• 5 ounces arugula, roughly chopped
• ½ cup walnuts, toasted
• 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place beets on a piece of aluminum foil on a baking sheet and make a pouch out of the foil, sealing it tightly. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let beets steam for 10 minutes. Open pouch and let beets cool slightly.
Meanwhile, whisk together vinegar, mustard, agave nectar or honey, and garlic in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oils and season with salt and pepper. Set vinaigrette aside.
After beets have cooled enough to handle, remove and discard skins and cut into bite-size pieces. Mix beets with half of vinaigrette, then mix spinach and arugula with the rest of the vinaigrette. Transfer greens to plates and top with beets, walnuts and goat cheese.
Courtesy of wholefoodsmarket.com