Give beets a chance

gold and candy cane beets

golden and candy cane beets

Check out my first Toronto Star cooking video at http://bit.ly/19mOdm7

If you’ve never eaten beets, or were forced to eat one too many canned or pickled beets as a child, Caroll Collins has a message for you:

Give beets a chance!

Collins, co-owner of Collins Farm Produce in Puslinch, between Hamilton and Guelph, probably introduced more people to beets than anyone else in the GTA in her eight years selling fresh vegetables at farmers markets.

“I had young men in their 20s saying they didn’t know how to cook beets, so I was their teacher,” says Collins, who’d slice up red, golden and candy-cane beets and let people taste them raw.

She sent her “students” home with basic baking and boiling instructions, urging them to report back the next week. Then she’d start giving them simple recipes, like her famous Gold Beet Salad with feta from Collinsfarm.ca.

Golden beets, with their orange skin and deep yellow flesh, are milder and a little less earthy than red beets. Sweeter candy cane-striped Chioggia beets are psychedelic when raw but their stripes can fade when cooked.

These specialty beets are still hard to find outside farmers markets because they’re twice the price of red beets. The seeds are much more expensive to buy, Collins explains, and varieties are limited.
“When I sold golden and candy-striped beets at farmers markets, people were begging to know where to get them,” she says. “Yet the big supermarkets are hesitant to carry them.”

But there’s no shortage of red beets around, with or without their edible green tops. You’ll also find beets on trendy restaurant menus, in everything from soup and salad to risotto.

For versatility, nutrition and great taste, these roots can’t be beet, er, beat.

Buy & store

  • Choose firm beets of equal size so they cook evenly.
  • The best-tasting beets are small to medium size with smooth skins.
  • Ken Collins harvests beets by hand until the end of October. They’re available year-round from storage.
  • Refrigerate roots unwashed in a plastic bag up to two weeks.
  • If beet greens are fresh and crisp, store them separately.

Prep

roasted red beets

roasted red beets

  • Beets are denser than potatoes, so be prepared to cook them awhile. Golden and candy-cane beets take less time to cook and won’t make you pee red, which Collins says can scare kids.
  • If beets come with greens, trim about 2 inches (5 cm.) from the root so the colour doesn’t bleed in cooking.
  • Don’t boil candy-cane beets or they’ll lose their colour. They turn a pretty pink when pickled and make sweet baked beet chips.
  • Beware, red beet juice stains!
  • Cook beets until tender, not rubbery, 35 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on size. Check with a toothpick or knife tip.
  • One cup (250 mL) cooked diced beets contains a mere 50 calories

Boil: Boiling is the fastest, easiest way to prepare beets and the skins slip right off after cooking.

Roast: Wrap whole beets individually in foil. Bake in preheated 400F (200C) oven about 1 hour, or until tender. Let cool a few minutes, then run briefly under cold water and rub off skins with a paper towel.

BBQ: Collins rubs whole beets with a bit of oil and throws them on a medium-high gas grill. Close lid and cook about an hour, turning often, until skins are charred and interior is tender and sweet.

Salad: Julienned or grated raw beets brighten any green salad. Or  slice cooked beets and serve with goat cheese rounds  between the slices, like a caprese salad. Cubed beets and oranges also make a great salad.

Juice: Raw red beets are a favourite for juicing. Mix with carrots and other vegetables.

Greens:

1. Prepare fresh beet greens like spinach, cooked in the water clinging to the washed greens.

2. Sauté in a little olive oil with onion and garlic.

3. Lightly steam and add butter and parmesan.

4. Chop and add to homemade soup.

Beet Hummus

Beet hummus

Beet hummus

Even people who think they don’t like red beets will love this easy, beautiful dip, adapted from Bradford beet grower Hillside Gardens.

3 medium or 5 small red beets (1 lb./450 g)

1 small clove garlic, peeled

19-oz can (540 mL) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup (60 mL) tahini (sesame paste)

3 tbsp (45 mL) fresh lemon juice

3 tbsp (45 mL) water

2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil

1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground cumin

1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt

Carrot sticks, mini cucumber sticks, crackers or bread for garnish.

Scrub and trim beets, leaving 2 inches (5 cm.) of stalk. Boil in lots of water about 45 minutes, until tender, or wrap individually in foil and roast in a preheated 400F (200C) oven 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. When cool enough to handle, slip off skins or rub off with a paper towel.

Turn on food processor. With motor running, drop in garlic clove to chop. Add cooked, peeled beets, drained chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, water, oil, cumin and salt. Process until smooth, scraping down sides occasionally. Thin with a little more water or oil if mixture is too thick.

Check seasoning and add more lemon juice if needed. Refrigerate in an airtight container up to one week. Serve with vegetable sticks, crackers or thin slices of baguette.

Makes 3 cups (750 mL).

Published Sept. 19, 2013 in The Toronto Star

2 thoughts on “Give beets a chance

  1. Wow! That Beet Hummus is addictively delicious. OK, I’m the first to admit – those dreaded remembered beets from childhood can actually taste good.

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