How to Cook Beets (or use them raw)
Beets are one of those veggies that inspire passion one way or the other—you either love them or loathe them. I’ve heard people say they think beets taste “like dirt.” Yeah, maybe if you don’t peel them before eating! I’m firmly in the “love them” category, and if you are, too, here are some tips and recipes for you.
Beets are delicious cooked (it brings out their natural sweetness), but they’re also splendid in their raw state, peeled, grated, and added to salads. I like them both ways, and use them both cooked and raw frequently. It depends on the recipe as well as my inclination at any given moment. There are three main ways to prepare beets (other than not cooking them at all): microwaving, cooking, and roasting. If your beets come with the greens, save them and use as you would chard, which they greatly resemble.
Varieties: Aside from the common red beets, try golden beets if you can find them—they’re not as common as their magenta counterparts, but they’re even sweeter (and a bit less messy). Even less common than golden are chioggia beets, an Italian heirloom variety with red-and-white stripes—as sweet as it is gorgeous, and formanova, which, with its long, cylindrical shape is great for getting uniform-sized slices. You might look for unusual beet varieties at farm markets, or if you’re a gardener, cultivate them yourself.
To microwave: This is the easiest and quickest cooking method, providing that you don’t object to microwaving. Rinse the beets and cut away all but an inch of the stalks. Place in a deep microwave-safe with an inch or so of water at the bottom. Microwave for 2 to 4 minutes per beet (2 minutes for small beets, 4 for medium-large) is a guideline, depending on your particular microwave unit. Best to start with less time and check for doneness). Don’t use too much water, otherwise it will boil up and get all over your microwave. If the beets aren’t done when you check them, turn them over and go for another minute per beet. They’re done when you can just pierce them—try not to overcook!
To cook: It’s best to use small or medium beets if you want to cook them conventionally, otherwise it takes forever. Rinse the beets and cut away all but an inch of the stalks. Combine in a large deep saucepan with water to cover; bring to a boil, then simmer until just tender. How long this will take varies greatly upon the size of the beets; start checking after about 20 minutes, but don’t poke too many test holes into them, or they’ll bleed like crazy! When done, drain.
To finish: Whether you’ve microwaved or cooked beets, once just tender, plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.Once the beets are cool enough to handle, peel them over the trash or compost container, then and dice or slice as desired. To prevent discoloration of your cutting board, you can cover it with a piece of wax paper.
Roasting beets: Roasted beets are delicious, but here’s where you need to make a bit of a mess, since you need to peel and slice them while raw. To minimize the mess, peel over the trash or compost container, and slice them on a cutting board covered with wax paper. Place the sliced raw beets (allow 1 medium beet per serving) in a foil-lined baking dish and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Bake at 400 or 425 degrees F. for 20 to 30 minute or so, until tender to your liking. Stir once or twice during that time. Beets are nice roasted with other root vegetables, including carrots and sweet potatoes. See this recipe for a roasted root vegetable medley.
Simple ways to use beets:
- When beets are are at their most flavorful, usually in late summer, they need no embellishment. Just serve them plain, sliced and served on a plate, or in salad.
- Dress warm sliced beets in just a little lemon juice and agave nectar.
- As mentioned above, raw beets are wonderful grated and tossed into salads or combined with other grated roots, as in Beet and Red Cabbage Slaw.