You Can’t Beat Beets!

As we slog through these winter months, the choices of fresh local vegetables become fewer. But just when you thought all was almost lost, root vegetables come to the rescue, and beets are the star players of the root vegetable team. Whether you kept yours in the garden under special mulch or safely stored in your root cellar, or if you purchase yours at a local winter farmers market or from an organic produce section in your grocery store, you can count on beets to be a great part of a late-winter meal.

Beets have been around for a long time, and I don’t mean the ones you still have from LAST winter! “Beets are an ancient, prehistoric food that grew naturally along coastlines in North Africa, Asia, and Europe. Originally, it was the beet roots that were consumed; the sweet red beet root that most people think of as a ‘beet’ today wasn’t cultivated until the era of ancient Rome.”1

Beets have many health benefits, including that they:

  • Are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying
  • Fight cancer
  • Help lower blood pressure
  • Boost stamina
  • Are chocked full of vitamins and fiber2

Tip: For a vegetable, beets are high in sugar and carbohydrates, so eat in moderation

For a thorough breakdown of nutritional data on beets, go to
A Chef’s Take on Beets
Joey Meicher, chef at The Local Lounge in Eau Claire, offers his insight and inspirations regarding beets.

“Beets are an incredible ingredient available almost the entire year. A fall planting, followed by proper storage in the root cellar (or the bottom drawer of your fridge,) results in one of the few ‘fresh’ vegetables that is still available toward the end of winter. Not only are they almost always available, but they are an incredibly versatile ingredient. Beets can be roasted, boiled, pickled, fermented, juiced, canned, sautéed, or even served raw. I love how they are used in so many different ways across a broad spectrum of cuisines.

“The beet + cheese + nuts combination seems to be a staple at almost every restaurant these days (and for good reason), but there are so many other directions to go with this vegetable. Pickled beets are a fantastic accompaniment to Nordic dishes and flavors (salmon, dill, dense rye breads, and cultured dairy products). Borscht is a name that can be applied to any sour Eastern European soup, but most are made with fermented beets. My favorite beet dish is a chilled soup in which fermented beets are pureed with a light broth and topped with raw cucumber, salted cabbage, sour cream, cilantro, mint, and dill. It is incredibly complex while still remaining vibrant and refreshing.

“One must not forget about the greens either! If you have ever grown beets, you know that the greens often need to be thinned out before the beetroot is mature. This is because beet seeds are actually pods that contain about six separate seeds all trying their best to grow into a big, beautiful beet. The easiest way to handle the excess beet greens is to warm a little onion, garlic, and chili in a lot of olive oil, add the washed (but not dried) greens and a splash of vinegar, than let them cook for a few minutes before piling on toast and topping with a fried egg, grated cheese, and maybe a few pickled beets from last year.”

2. Ibid.

Take Note of Your Roots

Try these colorful veggies when the weather turns cooler. All summer long we have relished in the fresh berries and vine ripened tomatoes, but when the leaves turn and the snow flurries begin, there are a variety of veggies that you may have overlooked: Root Vegetables. High in nutrients, these veggies go great with any meal and they also make plates more vibrant with their brilliant colors.

It’s no surprise that the more popular root vegetable is also one of the most nutritious. Carrots are high in beta carotene, which gives them their bright color and helps fight against cancer. Beta carotene can also fight against hyperglycemia and diabetes. If that isn’t enough, researchers are now breeding carrots with different colors to help fight harder. They have successfully produced a red carrot that is high in lycopene, which will help protect against prostate cancer. They also have a purple variety with anthocyanins, which is the same cancer fighting antioxidant that is found in wild blueberries.

Sweet Potatoes
Most of us are familiar with sweet potatoes at Christmas when they are covered in marshmallows and not looking too appealing. Well the other, dryer side of sweet potatoes, provides a whole array of sweet goodness. Sweet Potatoes also contain lots of beta carotene, vitamin C, and proteins called trypsin inhibitors, which researchers say shows promise as a powerful antioxidant.

The common beet comes boiled or pickled, which gives them sort of a bad rap. However, when they aren’t floating in vinegar, these roots have a great rich flavor. They are also a great source of minerals like iron and are high in anthocyanins, the same pigment found in berries and red wine that can protect the heart.

Usually served at Thanksgiving, these nutty roots veggies have glucosinolates, which stimulate the body’s own antioxidant systems. In Newfoundland, turnips are usually cooked in a stew with yellow peas that highlight their flavor.

These roots are a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. Rutabegas are crucifers and contain glucosinolates. They are also high in fiber, vitamin C, and calcium. These root veggies take their place best in Norway where they are cooked with potatoes, carrots, onions, and lots-o-lots of butter to create rotmos, or root mash.

These roots rarely get the attention they deserve. They are low in calories and high in vitamin C. Daikon is a large white radish used in a lot of Japanese dishes for its mild, sweet flavor. Macrobiotic cooks pair Daikon with fried foods to counter their fattiness and to ease digestion. Daikon has an excellent source of vitamin C and folate, and both kinds of radishes have anti-cancer components found in them.

Burdock Root
This slender brown root has a crunchy texture and a sweet taste. Like Daikon, it is used a lot in Japanese cooking. Macrobiotic chefs use burdock root to counter the effects of sugar. It is historically thought of as a blood purifier and diuretic; burdock is extremely high in potassium and fiber and contains a variety of cancer fighting components.

Tip: Don’t cube potatoes before boiling them. When you boil them with the skins intact, the Journal of Food Science found that they have a 50 % higher potassium level than those cooked in cubes. It may take a while longer for dinner, but you will reap the healthy benefits.

During the months when the produce aisle seems a bit bare (no locally grown tomatoes or piles of fresh corn in sight), take advantage of the ever-growing variety of root vegetables that are showing up everywhere.

Rough, rustic, and roasted, the root vegetables featured in this dish are filling, comforting, and nutritious.

Roasted Vegetable Ragout

Serves 4

What you need:
6 cipolline onions
4 baby turnips, or 2 large, cut in eighths
1 small celery root, peeled and cut into wedges
½ pound whole baby carrots
3 new potatoes, halved
2 leeks, white part only, cleaned and cut into
¼-inch rings
2 parsnips, peeled and quartered
8 Brussel sprouts
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 sprigs each of fresh thyme, rosemary, and parsley
½ cup white wine
2 cups vegetable stock, or low-sodium canned
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 bay leaf
2 cups coarsely chopped Swiss chard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

What do to:
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

In a heavy roasting pan, combine the vegetables and olive oil and toss to coat. Roast 20 to 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes, until the vegetables are nicely browned.

Meanwhile, tie the herbs together with kitchen string. Transfer the pan to the top of the stove. Add the wine, stock, tomatoes, and herbs and cook over high heat for 15 minutes. Stir in the Swiss chard and cook 2 minutes more.

Season with salt and pepper. To serve, spoon the vegetables and sauce over polenta.

Carrot and Potato Tsimmes

Serves 8

What you need:
4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
2 large white potatoes, peeled and cut into
½-inch chunks
1 bunch carrots, peeled, tops removed, and
cut into ½-inch chunks
½ cup pitted prunes, cut into ¼-inch slivers
¼ cup honey
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small dices
Lemon juice to taste

What to do:
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium saucepan, cover sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and carrots with lightly salted water and simmer over medium heat about 15 minutes, until tender but firm. Drain and place in a large baking dish with prunes, honey, cinnamon, and ¼ cup vegetable stock; stir to combine. Dot with butter.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover, stir gently, rotate dish, and bake uncovered for another 10 or 15 minutes, adding remaining vegetable stock if mixture becomes too dry. Garnish with lemon juice to taste. Serve warm.