Red Beets - [Beta vulgaris]
Red Beets A cultivated variety developed for edible roots, red beets are particularly appreciated in the Slavic countries but also throughout Europe and North America. The color comes from a purple pigment, betacyanin, and a yellow pigment, betaxanthin, which are acid stable so beets can be pickled. Beets are high in boron, a mineral important to production of human sex hormones, and have had an aphrodisiac reputation since Roman times. Beets are very sweet with a sugar content that can reach 10%. The photo specimens were typically 3-1/2 inch in diameter, weighed 11 ounces each, and provided an additional 7 ounces of edible greens and stems.

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Buying: If you intend to use the greens or use the beets raw select small ones which will be more tender. If the beets will be well cooked you could use larger ones but much above a pound you risk them becoming stringy.

When buying beets without leaves, make sure they have some stem stubble at the top end, and preferably with root still on. Beets trimmed without any stem stubble have probably been in storage way too long and have lost flavor. They will also bleed out their color during cooking.

To store beets, cut the greens down to about 1 inch and keep in a refrigerator crisper, unwashed and unwrapped or wrapped loosely in paper. They'll last several weeks.

Greens: Beet greens are edible, particularly when young. Tender ones can be used raw in salads, larger ones stir fried or sautéd in oil or with bacon. They are similar to spinach but can stand much longer cooking without becoming mushy down.

Cooking: In most cases beets are cooked separately from what they will eventually be used with. Some swear oven roasting is the only way to go, but I find little difference from boiling, and in sunny Southern California we don't fire up a hot oven if we don't really need to. The skins are easier to rub off if the beets are boiled.

  • Boiling:   Leave at least an inch when you cut off the greens, do not scrub and do not cut off the root. Boil until cooked through - a thin metal skewer will pass through the biggest one without hitting a hard spot in the center when they are done. Drain, cool in cold water until you can handle them and and rub off the skins. If you want the beets to stay warm, take them hot and rub off the skins under cold running water so you can handle them.
  • Roasting-1:   Wrap the beets tightly in foil and bake them in a preheated oven at 375°F/190°C, 1-1/4 hours for 3/4 pound beets. When they are done, cool them enough to handle them and and rub off the skin.
  • Roasting-2:   Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Coat the beets with olive oil and place on the foil. Fold the foil up over the beets and seal at the top. bake them in a preheated oven at 375°F/190°C, 1-1/4 hours for 3/4 pound beets.

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