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What Are Beets?
Beets are the edible root portion of the Beta vulgaris plant, a member of the amaranth family eaten in the Mediterranean and western Europe since prehistoric times. Nutritionally, they’re a good source of vitamin B9 (folate), which is necessary for DNA and cell production, and manganese, which supports immunity. The leaves are edible, too: plants grown specifically for the leaves are known as chard.
What Do Beets Taste Like?
Beets are famous for their sweetness—common garden beets contain about 3% sugar, while sugar beets can contain up to 22% sugar—and their earthy aroma, which comes from geosmin, the same compound that’s partially responsible for petrichor (the smell that results from rain on dry ground).
How to Pick Beets
Beets are available year-round but typically often at their best in winter. Look for beets that are smooth and firm without any bruises or cuts, and try to choose equal-size beets for more even cooking time.
If your beets are different sizes, remember to take out the smaller ones before the bigger ones. Smaller beets are more tender and quicker-cooking. Younger beets are often sold with their greens, a good sign that the beets will be tender. Plus you can cook the leaves and stems as well! Larger beets (2½ inches or more in diameter) can have tough, woody cores. If beets have their leaves are intact, look for small, dark green leaves. If the leaves have been removed, look for beets with at least half an inch of stem and 2 inches of taproot.
How to Store Beets
To store mature beets, remove the greens, leaving about an inch of stem attached. Store the unwashed beetroots in the fridge up to 10 days and the greens in a jar of water with a plastic bag loosely on top. For baby beets, leave the greens on and store in a vented plastic bag in the fridge. When using cooked beets, keep in mind that beet juice will stain other foods, as well as cutting boards and surfaces.
How to Boil Beets
Make sure to boil beets until they’re tender, since they won’t experience carryover cooking. Boil beets in four parts water to one part apple cider vinegar, a clove of garlic, and a bay leaf. Start the beets in the cold water, bring to a simmer and cook until tender, about 35 to 50 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel under running water, using your fingers to slip off the skins.
How to Steam Beets
You can steam beets in the oven: Heat the oven to 425 F. In a baking dish, arrange beets in a single layer and add enough water to come up to about ¼ inch. Cover the dish tightly with a piece of aluminum foil and roast until fork-tender, about 40-60 minutes. Add a little water if the pan starts to dry out. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel under running water, using your fingers to slip off the skins.
How to Roast Beets
To make roasted beets, heat the oven to 350 F. Place beets on a large sheet of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and fold foil into a pouch. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel under running water, using your fingers to slip off the skins.
3 Easy Ways to Serve Beets
Beets are incredibly versatile: they can be boiled, steamed, roasted, pickled, or used raw.
- Try a beet salad with arugula, goat cheese or feta; in soups like borscht; and even in smoothies.
- Marinate beets by simply roasting, then dress in balsamic vinegar and salt, for a quick great appetizer or side dish. And if your beets come with their greens, don’t toss them: sauté beet greens as you would kale.
- For something more luxurious, try Chef Thomas Keller’s baked beets recipe.
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