September 25, 2021

Today’s Main Ingredient is beets!
Our host Mikki Uzupes discusses colorful beets with farmer Liz Krug of Fuller’s Overlook Farm in Waverly PA, and chef Joe Infante from Tick Tocks on Terrace in Honesdale PA. Nutritionist Carol Kneier adds some of the nutritional benefits of eating vibrant and colorful beets, both greens and root.

Five cultivars of beets

About Beets

Beets, also called beetroots, are the taproot of the beet plant. Beets are a cool-season crop that does well in northern climates because they can survive frost and near-freezing temperatures, making them an excellent fall crop. The root and the plant’s tender greens are edible.

In addition to the basic red beet, look for the following at farmers’ markets:
• Chioggia: Its flesh inside is ringed with red and white stripes.
• Golden beets: These are milder than red beets and don’t bleed as red beets do.

Growing Beets

Site Selection
• Choose a spot that gets full sun, ideally at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.
• Soil should be loamy to sandy and range from slightly acidic to neutral. Beets do not tolerate acidic soils below pH 6.0.
• Poor soil can be amended with a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer prior to planting.
• Avoid planting beets where Swiss chard or spinach has recently been grown, as they are cousins of beets and are susceptible to similar pests and diseases.

Plan to harvest beetroot about 2 months after planting.Planting
Beets are easy to grow from seed in well-prepared soil. They grow quickly in full sun.
• Start beets in early spring, as soon as the soil is workable.
• Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours before planting to speed up germination.
• Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart in rows that are about 1 foot apart. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil.
• Germination takes place in 5 to 8 days as long as the soil temperature is at least 50°F. In colder soil, germination may take 2 to 3 weeks.
• Make sure the soil remains moist for optimal germination.
• Each wrinkled beet “seed” is actually a cluster of 2 to 5 seeds, so you will need to thin the young plants to 3 to 4 inches apart once the greens get to be about 4 inches tall. Crowded seedlings result in stringy beets.
• When thinning, don’t pull up the plants, as you may accidentally disturb the roots of the beets you want to keep. Instead, snip off the greens.
• Sow successive plantings every 2 to 3 weeks until mid-summer so long as daytime temperatures don’t exceed 75°F.
• For a fall harvest, sow beet seeds from mid-summer through early fall, starting about 4 to 6 weeks before your first fall frost.

• Mulch and then water regularly with about 1 inch of water per square foot per week. Beets need to maintain plenty of moisture in order to grow well.
• Weed as needed, but be gentle around young plants; beets have shallow roots that are easily disturbed.
• Consider covering beets with a row cover to prevent pests from attacking the plants’ leaves.
• Supplementing with extra fertilizer is usually not necessary. If you do fertilize, go easy on nitrogen; excess will cause an abundance of greens but tiny bulbs beneath the soil.

Store the beetroots and greens separately.Harvesting
• For most varieties, beets mature between 55 and 70 days.
• Harvest the roots when they are golf-ball-size or larger; very large roots may be tough and woody.
• Loosen the soil around the beet and gently pull it from the earth.
• Harvest beet greens at almost any time. However, roots will not fully form without greens, so always leave some on the plant as this is necessary for proper development.
• Beets can survive in the garden down into the mid-20s F. However, they’ll turn to mush if you let the ground freeze around them.

In the Kitchen

Beets can be eaten raw, roasted, steamed, grilled, boiled, baked, or shredded & sautéed.

If you have a true root cellar for long-term, winter storage:
• Cut the roots from the stems, leaving nearly no stem; then brush off any soil clinging to the roots. Store in layers (but not touching) surrounded by dry sand or sawdust.
If all you have is a refrigerator:
• Raw, whole beets will keep for weeks in the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag to let moisture and humidity escape. Leave about 1 inch of stem on each beet. Don’t wash before you store them. For longer refrigerator storage, check periodically to make sure none are rotting and remove those that are. Sprouting is a sign of poor storage and leads to decay.
• If they are wet or muddy, lay them out overnight in a cool, dry location, spreading them in a single layer to dry on a tarp or newspaper; however, don’t leave them out any longer, or they’ll become limp.
• Store uncooked greens wrapped in paper towels and then put in a plastic bag; they will keep for a few days
• Once cooked, beets will keep for a week in the refrigerator. Cooked beets also can be frozen, canned, and pickled for longer storage.
In the freezer:
• Freeze beetroot cooked.
• To freeze the beet greens, wash them and dry well with paper towels. Freeze in a zip-top plastic bag removing as much air as you can. Storage too long will result in freezer burn, when they take on the smell of the freezer and alter their flavor. Or, steam or saute the greens then squeeze the water out and freeze in a container as you would spinach or Swiss chard.

Peeling Beets
Unless using them raw, beets are easiest to peel after they’re cooked. Scrub them and cook them whole with their skins on.
Method 1 (for raw beets in a salad): Scrub and then peel with a vegetable peeler.
Beetroot boiled and peeledMethod 2 (for cooked beets): Roast, bake, or steam beets whole and unpeeled. When they are tender, let them cool enough to handle, and then rub off their skins. (Use a paper towel or wear gloves if you don’t what to stain your hands.)

Removing Red-beet Stains
Red beets bleed and stain everything they touch, leaving hard-to-remove pink stains. Try these tips to remove them:
On a Cutting Board: Scrub the board with cut side of one half of a lemon and a generous amount of coarse salt. Rinse with cold water; repeat if necessary.
On Hands: Make a thick paste of baking soda and water, and over the sink, coat your hands with a small amount. Rub vigorously, and then rinse; repeat until the stains are completely gone.
On Clothing: Immediately treat the spot with a stain remover (like Shout or Tide2Go) and then wash in cold water with fabric-appropriate bleach, if needed.

Cooking Methods
Regardless of how you cook beets be sure to keep the tail, the skin, and at least an inch of the stems attached to keep their valuable juices locked in.

Boiling beets is the least satisfactory method of cooking because they lose so much color and flavor in the water.

Beetroot (8513911173)Roasted: Preheat oven to 400°F. Scrub whole, unpeeled beets and brush with olive oil. Cook until easily pierced with a knife, 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size and age of the beets.

Baked: Put washed, whole, unpeeled beets in a baking dish with 1/4 inch of water and cover the dish; or you may choose to wrap the beets in foil with a teaspoon or two of water. Bake at 375°F until easily pierced with a knife. Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the size and age of the beets.

Steamed: Set scrubbed, whole, unpeeled beets in a steamer basket over an inch of water, then cover and steam until tender when pierced with a knife—about 30 to 45 minutes for a large beet… about 20 to 25 for smaller ones. Steaming the greens is best for retaining the nutrients; season with a little salt or soy sauce.
Note: In a pressure cooker, beets will take 15 to 20 minutes for large beets… 10 to 12 minutes for small.

Microwave: Wash, peel and cut beets into uniform-size pieces about 3/4-inch. In the largest bowl that will fit in your microwave oven, stir together beets, 1/3 cup water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover with a plate and microwave until beets can be easily pierced with a paring knife, 25 to 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. Drain and cool.

Grated & sautéed: Peel 1 pound beets with a vegetable peeler and grate into coarse shreds. Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a skillet and add beets with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add 1/4 cup water and cover the skillet. Cook over medium heat until beets are tender. Remove the lid and raise the heat to boil off the water. Season with lemon juice or vinegar, to taste. Toss with a fresh herb: chopped parsley, tarragon, dill, or other herbs. Stir in a Tablespoon of yogurt or sour cream if you like.

Beet Greens (4162399800)Braised Greens: In the South, beet greens are braised long and slow with “seasoning meat” as with any greens—collards, turnips, mustard greens, dandelion or other greens. Here’s a description of how to cook greens this way:
“Thoroughly wash 2 pounds of fresh greens, trim off the stalks, and immerse the leaves a few at time in one and a half gallons of boiling water, to which has been added a quarter-pound piece of seasoning meat—ham hock or salt pork [or bacon]. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt (more if needed). Cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour or more, or until the greens are tender. […] This amount of greens will boil down from a large mass to a more manageable amount—about enough to serve 4 people. […] Pot likker is the “broth” that remains in a pot after certain vegetables and their greens are boiled.” — From Southern Food by John Egerton; ©1987 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

See this video for how to cook beet greens or collard greens with a smoked turkey leg:

Beets are so versatile you could even make beet ice cream:


Note: When mixing red beets with other vegetables or mixed-color beets, keep red beets separate until the last minute.

Shredded Beet and Carrot Salad (Raw) – 4 to 6 servings

2 medium-small beets
2 large carrots
1 1/2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons sunflower or other neutral oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Step 1 – Peel raw beets and carrots. Shred these vegetables using the large holes of a box grater or the shredding disc of a food processor.

Step 2 – Toss shredded beets and carrots with balsamic vinegar and sunflower or other oil. Serve at once or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Download Recipe
Or try this recipe for roasted beet salad from the Food Network:

Beet Relish – makes 2 pints
Serve as a condiment with stews, atop sandwiches or burgers.

2 pounds beets
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon pickling spices, tied in cheesecloth
1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons prepared horseradish

Step 1 – Wash the beets, and remove leaves. Leave an inch or more of the stem and the root’s “tail” of the root end intact, and place beets in a large pot with a vegetable steamer. Bring water to a boil and steam until beets are tender, 30 minutes or more, as needed.

Step 2 – Remove the steamer basket and let the beets cool. Cut off the stems and root ends, and when cool enough to handle, peel the beets by rubbing off the skin. Grate the beets, using a box grater or grating blade of a food processor. You should have about 6 cups.

Step 3 – Place grated beets in large heavy non-reactive saucepan, and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Then remove the cover and boil the mixture until it has thickened slightly and the onions have softened, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Step 4 – Ladle boiling hot beet relish into hot sterilized canning jars, and follow standard canning procedures.
Or, if you do not want to can, allow the relish to cool, then ladle into jars. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 weeks.

Download Recipe

Beet Salad with Apples and Potatoes – serves 6-8 as a side
This combination of ingredients sounds strange, but the result is a beautiful red/pink salad of beets and potatoes with the added sweetness of apples. Be sure to start this salad a day before you plan to serve it.

INGREDIENTS for the marinade:
4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Salt & pepper

INGREDIENTS for the salad:
3 medium or 6 small boiling potatoes
4 medium red beets
2 apples (Golden Delicious are nice)
3/4 to 1 cup mayonnaise, to taste
Tarragon or parsley leaves, chopped (for garnish)

Step 1 – Place all the marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl and blend well.

Step 2 – Boil unpeeled potatoes. Bake unpeeled beets until easily pierced with a paring knife.

Step 3 – When cool enough to handle, peel and slice potatoes and beets; then slice the apples.

Step 4 – Add the vegetables, apples, and salt & pepper to the marinade and stir until everything is well coated. Refrigerate and let this mixture marinate for 24 hours, stirring at least once during that time until the mixture is uniformly red.

Step 5 – An hour or more before serving, drain and discard the marinade.
Stir in enough mayonnaise to liberally coat the salad. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Step 6 – Serve with sprinkle of chopped tarragon or parsley.

Download Recipe

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Today's Main Ingredient is sponsored in part by:

Greater Pike Community Foundation
Overlook Estate Foundation
Wayne-Pike Farm Bureau

Thanks also to Fertile Valley and Wolfe Spring Farms for their sponsorship of the BoldGold radio station broadcasts.

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