11 Oct 2006

Unbeetable Beets

The Romans were the first to cultivate beet for it's roots. For thousands of years previous to that only the green tops were eaten. At first beets were only used for animal food but in the 16th century became popular as a food for humans. They, like sugar cane, became a major source of sugar in the 19th century up until today.

The whole of the beetroot plant is nutritious. The greens contain vitamins A and C, beta-carotine, iron, potassium and calcium being very similar to spinach in nutrition. The roots are an excellent source of folate, potassium, vitamin A and manganese, they also are a good source of vitamin B and C, dietary fiber, magnesium, tryptophan, iron, copper, boron and phosphorous. Although high in sugars they are low in calories.

Beets have been renown in history for their healthy properties. In the Talmud, written around the 4th century, it states that eating beetroot, drinking mead and bathing in the Euphrates, as part of a prescription for a long and healthy life. In Russia, beets have been popular for hundreds of years for their healthy properties and therefore are regularly eaten. The betacyanin which gives beets their rich dark red color has been thought for many years to be a cancer fighting agent and recent tests are confirming that fact. Potassium, along with their other minerals and vitamins helps to regulate blood pressure. The high levels of folate (folic acid) make beets excellent during pregnancy. The whole plant is rich in antioxidents. Beets are excellent on the digestive system and act as a mild laxative.

Due to beets oxalates, they can interfere with calcium absorption, so remember to take calcium a few hours before or after eating beetroot.

When purchasing, choose firm, smooth skinned deep colored beets. For eating raw buy small, young beets. They can be stored, unwashed for a few days in the kitchen or in the fridge for around 3 weeks. Allow enough stem of the green tops so that the root doesn't bleed it's important red juice. Beets must be cooked before freezing. Do not peel beets when cooking unless adding to a stew or soup where the red juices will be preserved. Their color can be brightened by adding lemon juice or vinegar to the water when cooking. The red stains can be removed from hands by rubbing with lemon juice.

Beets are wonderful, raw in salads and juiced, steamed (with leaves if young), added to stir-fry, soup and stew or roasted with other root vegetables. Grated raw on top of a veggie burger is a real treat and not to forget that they are also popular pickled or curried.

Amazingly they are now popular in cakes, so for a "Vegan Beet Chocolate Cake with Banana-Peanut Butter Sauce" recipe head over to Susan at Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.

The beet is a very unbeetable vegetable.

Recipes of the Day

Hot Borscht
by Karen Fischer from
This is a yummy dish for all you fall season root vegetable fans. It's adapted from a recipe that I believe first appeared in Gourmet magazine. Preparation is not time consuming unless, like me and my Russian peasant ancestors, you chop and grate by hand :)

4 cups veggie stock
3 large beets
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
2 onions
1 parsnip
1 cup coarsely shredded cabbage
1 cup tomato pulp, fresh or canned (I use canned)
1 tsp sugar (optional; the beets are sweet)
1 clove garlic, split and impaled on a toothpick

Peel beets and shred coarsely. Chop carrots, onions, celery and parsnip. Boil stock and add beets, carrots, onions, celery and parsnip. Simmer covered 20 minutes. Add cabbage, tomato, sugar and garlic on toothpick. Simmer 15 minutes until cabbage is tender. Remove garlic. Top with dill (fresh is best) and ff sour cream if you are so inclined. Serve hot.

Beet and Fennel Stir-fry
from the Vegetarian Times
Beets give this stir-fry a wonderful color and flavor.

2 baby red or golden beets, trimmed
2 tbsps peanut oil
1 cup packed sliced shallots
1 cup cremini mushrooms, stemmed
1 cup sugar snap peas, stringed
2 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced fennel
1/2 cup fresh shelled peas or 1/2 cup frozen
4 scallions (white and light green parts), sliced on diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsps. balsamic vinegar

Bring medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add beets and cook, until tender, about 15 minutes; drain. When cool enough to handle, peel beets and cut each in half. In large wok or large nonstick skillet, heat oil over high heat. Add shallots and mushrooms and stir-fry 3 minutes. Add sugar snap peas and stir-fry 2 minutes. Mix in mustard seeds, thyme and sugar. Add, fennel and peas and stir-fry 4 minutes. Add scallions, parsley, vinegar and beets; toss to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Beet Vegetable Juice Cocktail
from that wonderful website

1 apple, sweet, large
2 carrots, large
1 beet, fresh (about a cup full in size)
1/2 cup beet greens, fresh (optional)
1 broccoli, stem (optional)
2 sprigs parsley
1/4 cup onion
1 garlic clove
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. stevia, white extract
1/2 tsp. allspice, ground
2 tbsp. flax seed
1 to 1-1/2 cups Ice
1 to 1-1/2 cups water

Wash and clean the vegetables. Place one half of the water and all the other ingredients in a high speed blender (Vita-Mix type). Cover and run at high speed, tamping as required to make sure that all the ingredients are thoroughly blended and smooth. While the mixer is still running, retract the tamper and rinse it into the blender with the remaining water. Continue running at high speed for another minute and it is ready to serve. Stop the blender and pour into glasses, with a straw and a piece of parsley garnish. The consistency can be adjusted by changing the amount of water and ice. Stevia is a sweetener and should be adjusted to taste. The flax seed adds nutritional components such as essential fatty acids and helps to keep the juice from separating.


Marion said...

Beets are one of those foods you've got to remember you've eaten the night before, lol.

bit of a shock, otherwise, during the morning's constitutional!

Educational and tasty as always!

Chandira said...

Wow.. Didn't know you could eat beet greens! But I don't see why not. I'll try them next time we buy some nice fresh beets.
I also didn't know they were a laxative.. lol

Ever read Tom Robbins' 'Jitterbug Perfume'? In that, they are also the secret to immortality.

Anonymous said...

I love all your posts, but I especially love this one. I love beets raw, cooked, pickled, canned, whatever! And I've been looking for a good borscht recipe. Thanks for thinking of all of us Northern hemispherees going into Fall and posting this! Just had beets (and their greens) last week, but may just have to go get some more...

Rosemary said...

Sounds like a particularly healthy food. Would the greens work in a salad the way spinach does?

Jackie said...

I find the baby beet leaves can and sometimes I just steam them for a few minutes. I treat spinach the same way.

I do it by taste I taste a leaf and if it doesn't taste how I want it raw I steam the leaves.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all that info, Jackie, esp. about the calcium. I am still trying to love beets. I must have bad memories of foul smelling pickled beets. I do think they are beautiful, although messy, and now that they are in season, I'm willing to give them another try.

TerraPraeta said...

I love my beets :-)

Always hated them as a kid and pickled... but recently have begun slow roasting the roots, then chopping and sauteeing with the greens and a touch of butter. Fabulous.

Also, I have become extremely enamoured of golden beets... mostly the same, but yellow-orange in color, slightly milder, and the greens seem to hold up a little better.


Anonymous said...

Being Polish, I grew up eating beets. You can't beat beets.

Anonymous said...

Beet greens sound great! I will have to try that!

I'm still trying to like beets though. Maybe these recipes can change my mind. I want to like them. I love their color so much. I was just forced to eat them when I was little and they were the canned ones. :( I must overcome that! lol!