Last week gave us a big blooming harbinger of springtime. But we admit we're still getting in touch with our roots. Luckily we're not being forced into a mad panicky rush, because beets are generally available all the time (a visit to Underwood Farms is usually all it takes). But they tend to be a little sweeter, a little juicier, and a little more potent during the cooler months. They're also dirt cheap and incredibly nutritious, loaded with iron and vitamins.
Beets, a Mediterranean immigrant, are related to another cool weather lovely, Swiss chard. Chard is mainly grown for its giant, puffy sail-like leaves, while beets generally tend to be all about the root ball. But can we tell you that it breaks our hearts just a little when we watch bunch after bunch of beets get 'topped' at the local markets, the leaves discarded into a pile on the asphalt.
Topping is actually good. The intact leaves and the root ball are still a living plant and the leaves keep sucking what they can from the roots to stay plump and photosynthesizing. Keep the leaves after they've been removed: they're still edible and delicious. A little bacon fat, a little salt, maybe some cider vinegar.
Giant beets tend to need a lot of cook time to break down their more established inner fibers. Small beets are younger, and thus pretty tender. They should be firm, not spongy. And if the leaves are attached, they shouldn't be limp and flat.
A twitter ask for 140 character recipes for beets yielded some proof that simple is the way to go: "My beets: boiled, peeled, cubed, smidge olive oil, salted, add goat cheese. Yum!" from @MySo_CalLife (our own Ali Trachta) and, "Beets: Rinsed; roasted whole in foil; peeled/trimmed; sliced w/vinaigrette." From @snailwrangler (Lisa Lucas Talbot, head of Slow Food LA). On top of being easy to cook, they're also pretty cheap, which may be why they caught the attention of 99 Cent Chef Billy Vasquez. We'll ignore his recent post on canned beets (he has a rep to maintain so we'll allow it, kind of) and go back in time to a recipe he posted in 2009 when he visited the Culver City Farmers Market.
From: Billy Vasquez, The 99 Cent Chef
1 bunch of beets, or three to four large ones, any color
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Peel and slice (about 6 slices per) beets. Arrange in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
3. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour. A fork will pierce the beet easily when done. Serve as a side dish or allow to cool and serve in a salad.