When it comes to deciding which vegetable to serve for a meal, many people often limit themselves to the familiar trinity of corn, carrots or green beans.
But there are many other wonderful options popping up in area farmers markets that are worth a taste. In July, locally grown beets will start to be available. Jennifer Miller, 40, of Sandhill Family Farms in Grayslake says that some of her customers are reluctant to try beets. "It's often a love/hate relationship — people either love beets or hate them," she notes. "I think those that hate them have only had beets that have been boiled. I help them to move beyond boiling and only trying red beets."
Although beets can be boiled with the skins on until tender, Miller's favorite way to prepare beets is to oven roast them. "Roasting really intensifies the beet-y flavor," she says. To roast beets, Miller first cuts off the greens and rubs the unpeeled beets with olive oil. Then she wraps the beets in foil and bakes them at 400 degrees until tender.
The amount of time varies with the size of the beet but the average time is about 45 minutes. "Then you unwrap the beets, slip off the skins and serve them hot or let them cool to serve cold." Since she often uses beets in different ways, she roasts several beets at once. Then she eats some hot for a meal and cools the rest for future use in salads and other dishes.
People who don't think they like beets might try golden beets instead of red beets. "Golden beets are milder in flavor and are a lot less messier to prepare. Red beets do make things red," she notes. The golden beets can be used in place of red beets in any recipe. Mixing red and golden beets, especially in salads, is a way to add brilliant color to a dish.
Many people mistakenly view the greens attached to the beet as waste but Miller says they are edible. The beet greens actually have a higher iron content than spinach and have more nutritional value than the beet root. "The beet greens have to be used within a week of picking while the beets can be stored for a month or longer," says Miller. One of her favorite beet recipes is sliced beets on wilted beet greens topped with crumbled goat cheese.
Another popular way to enjoy beets is to pickle them. Miller points out that pickled beets can be made in a small batch and do not need to be canned. "They can keep in the refrigerator and eaten over time," she explains.
She notes that some people purchase beets for juicing or other healthy dishes. "People who are into the raw food movement eat them raw. They just peel them and slice them very thin on a mandolin. If you mix them with sliced turnips and carrots, it makes a delicious crunchy trio."
When purchasing beets, Miller suggests looking at the greens. "They should be healthy and green. If they aren't, the beets are not freshly picked. Choose beets that are close to the same size so they all cook in the same amount of time. We try to pick our beets when they are larger than a golf ball but smaller than a baseball." Cooked beets can be frozen but Miller says they may lose some texture.
For the freshest beets, visit a farm stand. Miller and her husband Jeff have been farming their 40-acre farm in Grayslake for 10 years. They have partnered with a farm family in Wisconsin to provide a greater variety of produce for their Community Supported Agriculture share customers. Sandhill Family Farms offer fruit, dairy, meat, egg and vegetable options. "Everything is grown sustainably, responsibly and without pesticides," says Miller with pride. Sandhill Farm also has a weekly stand at the Oak Park Farmers Market. For more information, go to sandhillfamilyfarms.com.
Miller encourages others to give beets a try this summer season. She offers her favorite recipes for a beet salad and pickled beets but reminds everyone that roasted beets drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with salt are simply delicious too.
Judy Buchenot is a freelance writer.
Roasted Beet Salad & Beet Greens Salad
7 beets about 3 inch diameter with greens
2 tablespoons drained capers
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
21/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Cut green tops off beets. Arrange beets in single layer in baking dish and add one cup water. Cover and bake at 375 degrees until beets are tender when pierced with knife — about 1 hour. While the beets cook, prepare dressing by whisking olive oil, vinegar and garlic in small bowl until blended. Season dressing with salt and pepper to taste. Remove stem section and wash greens. Place into a large pot with 2 tablespoons of water. Cook and stir over high heat until just greens are wilted but still bright green in color, about 4 minutes. Drain greens and squeeze out excess moisture. Cool and chop coarsely. Place in a bowl and toss with enough dressing to coat. When beets are tender, unwrap, slip off skins and thinly slice. Place sliced beets in a large bowl. Add capers and 1/4 cup dressing. Toss to mix. Place greens on a plate. Arrange sliced beets on top. Sprinkle with goat cheese and serve at room temperature. Can also be chilled and served cold.
Makes six servings.
Simple Pickled Beets with Dill
5 to 6 beets, about three inches in diameter
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Jennifer's Culinary Cue
When storing beets, cut off the greens leaving about two inches of stem. Leaving the greens attached allows the greens to pull moisture from the beets over time. Store greens and beets in separate bags in the refrigerator.
3 ounces crumbled goat cheese
2 tablespoons of fresh dill, chopped
Cut off the greens off beets and reserve for another dish. Wash beets but do not peel. Place in water to cover and bring to a boil. Cook about 30 minutes or until tender but not mushy.
Rinse beets under cold running water to cool them. Slip off the skins and slice into rounds or quarters. Set aside.
In bowl, combine vinegar, sugar, olive oil, salt, pepper and dill. Add sliced beets and toss to coat. Allow to marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving. Refrigerate leftovers.
Makes four servings.