I have renewed my love affair with beets. I had forgotten how good they are for you. And bonus: they’re tasty, too! I’m dedicating the next few posts to beets.
FIRST UP: BEET BASICS
I just read Jo Robinson‘s new book, Eating on the Wild Side, which is about how to get the best nutrition from fruits and vegetables, and beets play a starring role. Here’s why, pretty much swiped from the book (thanks, Jo!):
- Beets are rich in boron, known for its bone-building properties and ability to elevate the production of testosterone in men and women (ie, a natural aphrodisiac).
- Eating beets relaxes and widens blood vessels, allowing for greater blood flow.
- Even though they taste sweet, beets have a surprisingly low impact on blood sugar.
- Beets are a good source of fiber, folate and potassium.
- Beets have more antioxidant properties than all other common vegetables in the grocery store except artichokes, red cabbage, kale and bell peppers—we’re talking nine times more antioxidant activity than a typical tomato and fifty times more than orange carrots.
- Beets get their red color from betalains, phytonutrients that are proving to be excellent cancer and cardiovascular disease fighters.
- The nitrate in beets may enhance athletic performance by helping to reduce blood pressure, thus increasing blood flow to muscles and decreasing the amount of oxygen required by your muscles during exercise.
WHEN BUYING BEETS:
- Choose the darkest red varieties you can find.
- When possible, choose bunch beets with their greens on them—the leaves have seven times more antioxidants than romaine lettuce and are on par with kale in terms of overall nutritive value. You can add leaves as greens to salads and substitute them for spinach in recipes (remember that the leaves have red veins in them; if you steam them, they will turn everything in the vicinity pink).
WHEN PREPARING BEETS:
- They become more nutritious when you steam, microwave or roast them.
- To roast, wrap them in foil, then place on a cooking sheet in a 400-degree oven for about 40-60 minutes (just like you would a potato). When cool, you can easily slide off the skin. (If you don’t want your hands to turn pink, use latex-free gloves while doing this.)
I like my beets prepared many ways. I particularly like when they play a starring role in soup.
DEEPLY BEET SOUP
I submitted this recipe in a recent Food52 contest, “Your best recipe for fall soup.” Sadly, not one person on that site was the least bit interested in my soup. I’m not sure if it was the photo (I used the one above––maybe too arty?), my lack of networking on Food52, or if beets are a deeply uninteresting root vegetable to Food52 members. No matter. Because, Dear Readers, this is a truly, deeply, madly delicious beet soup. I was inspired by Eating on the Wild Side, which makes clear the nutritional superiority of red and purple vegetables. Don’t sweat over the size or look of the chopped vegetables––this soup’s headed to the blender once cooked.
Makes 1-1/2 quarts
3-4 medium-size red beets, peeled and quartered
1 large red onion, roughly chopped
2 medium-size purple carrots, skin on and roughly chopped
2 fingerling-size purple potatoes, skin on and each sliced in half
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
A small bunch of dill, tied
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1 large bay leaf
Salt to taste
Juice of 1-2 lemons (white vinegar will work in a pinch)
Heat the olive oil in a pot. Add the onion and sauté till opaque––about 5 minutes. Add the beets, carrots, celery and potatoes and sauté for about 5 more minutes. (There are no hard or fast rules here.) Near the end, add the garlic.
Add the bay leaf and stock, bring to a low boil, then cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the dill for the last 5 minutes.
Remove from heat. Remove the bay leaf and dill, too. Pour the soup into a blender and give it a whir.
Add salt and lemon juice to taste. (My dad liked vinegar for a tart contrast, but I prefer lemon juice––it’s gentler.)
Serve with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt and buttered pumpernickel bread.