Friday, June 18, 2010

Beets - From the Garden to the Table

I never liked beets as a kid. Maybe it's because my Mom tried to pass off mushy canned beets as being edible, or maybe it's because I was overly picky. Whatever the reason, I hadn't eaten a beet in many years until I found them in my salad last Fall at Bouchon. At first I thought I would pick them out, but I trust Michel's preparation of cuisine, so I hesitantly slipped one in my mouth, prepared to spit it into my napkin when no one was looking. To my surprise, it was the best thing I ate that night - so sweet, so juicy - so full of earthy goodness. I was in love and vowed at that moment to grow beets the following Spring.

I sowed a 9' row of Red Cloud Hybrid Beets in late March. Beets are a cool weather crop that can handle a bit of frost and should be sown in early Spring as soon as the soil can be worked. There is no need to fuss with sowing beets indoors and attempting to transplant them - just sow them right in the garden. Follow the directions on the seed packet - sow them shallow and give them enough space to grow. Since beets are a root crop, they need an airy soil that will enable unrestrained growth. I replaced about 50% of my heavy clay soil with compost to ensure the beets had enough breathing room. This variety matures in about 60 days.

growing beets

Beets are ready to harvest when they have reached about 2" across. Be sure to pick them before they get too big; otherwise, they will lose their flavor and become really tough. The fat round root and fresh leafy greens are both edible, making for a wonderful salad when paired.

picking beets

Beets are pretty tough when they're raw, so it's best to give them a light sauteing to soften them up and bring out their sweet flavor.

To prepare the beet for cooking, wash thoroughly, and then cut the leafy greens free of the root and snip off the long tap root from the bottom.

preparing beets

Using a potato peeler, peel off the tough outer skin to reveal the bright red juicy goodness beneath. It's best to wear gloves or slip a baggy over your hand while doing this since the red juice can stain your hands and clothes.

peeling beets

Slice the beets up however you want to eat them. Some people like to cube them, others like them in little sticks. I prefer half discs. So pretty, just like little red rainbows!

slicing beets

Saute for a couple minutes in a bit of olive oil over medium heat, then add a splash of white wine. Reduce the heat and cover for 10 minutes until very tender.

saute beets

Beets can be eaten warm or cold. I prefer them cold, so I stick them in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes when they have finished cooking.

The greens can be eaten cold in a salad or lightly sauted and served warm. To saute, add a bit of olive oil to a warm pan and cook over medium heat until the leaves shrivel to your liking.

saute beet greens

We served our beet greens under chicken with chilled beets on the side.

beets with chicken

I will be sowing a second crop of beets in late Summer for Fall harvest. Beets can be stored for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. I have never tried to freeze them, but I might saute some up and give it a try.

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