I peek under our hoop house garden bed to check the progress of the hundred beets we planted early in the winter. The greens look healthy and strong.
For two months I have resisted the urge to harvest baby beets early. On occasion, I did harvest a few beets under the auspices of “thinning the bed.” Sometimes thinning a garden bed is necessary to give the growing beets enough space to reach their potential; other times it is an excuse to sample your bounty. Our waiting has paid off as we harvest an abundant and tasty crop.
It was the health benefits of beets that convinced us to dedicate a large portion of our spring garden to this particular root crop. Beets are mineral-rich but they may also fight cancer with their high concentration of the antioxidant compound betalain, the same compound that gives dark red beets their deep color.
We planted heirloom beets for a bit more nutritional punch than the standard commercially-available beets. Nutrition in commercial beets has actually declined in the past seventy years, largely due to commercial seed giving up some of its nutrient density in exchange for higher yields. (I write more about this here.) The beets at the store are simply less nutritious than the heirlooms I grow in my garden.
As I see it, I can gorge on three entire roasted beets, meet more than 15% of my iron requirement, and prevent cancer, all with a root crop that is extremely easy to grow in my garden. We have planted many heirloom beets in our excitement.
Appreciating the mountain of beets we are now harvesting, we have been experimenting with beet recipes. We ask everyone we know for interesting ways to use our beets and they have delighted us with ideas. These recipes are our top picks.
This simple recipe tops my list of personal favorites: Peel and cube the beets. Toss them in olive oil and chopped garlic. Allow the beets to marinade for a few hours. Roast them in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes. They will become a bit crispy with garlic and olive oil undertones. Roasted beets may be my new favorite snack and get my highest recommendation.
If you are using the roasted beet as an ingredient in recipes, you can save time by roasting them whole. Wrap your washed beets in foil (lined with parchment if you are ridding your food of foil) and roast them in a 400 degree oven for about 90 minutes until they are soft through the center. Let them cool, peel them, and cube them to use in the roasted beet recipe ideas below. Take the cubes a step further and purée them in a food processor if your recipe calls for a puréed beet. (For full instructions, read more on our site here.)
Use your roasted beet cubes along with chicken or vegetable broth as the base for a nourishing soup. Simply puree the roasted beets and sautéed shallots in a hearty broth and top the soup with cream, chives, and fresh fennel. The flavors of the soup are delicate and the soup rich and satisfying. Serve the soup as an impressive first course or eat it as a meal with hot sourdough bread. (Find the recipe here at Fresh Bites Daily.)
In a moment on inspiration, my mother took the classic beet soup recipe above and made a curry rendition which is definitely on the must-try list. (Find the recipe here at Fresh Bites Daily.)
For a dazzling side salad, this combination of beets, orange, fennel, and chives is dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and mustard and served on a bed of baby greens. It is a great complement to a heavy beef dish but it is also exceptional with traditional vegetarian fare such as falafel and hummus. (Find our recipe here.)
Of course, take anything tasty, place it over tasty greens and add a special dressing for a no-fail gourmet experience. Jenny at Nourished Kitchen provides the details, down to the kombucha vinaigrette. (Find the recipe at Nourished Kitchen.)
This idea comes from the Polish countryside where beets, potatoes, and cream are widely available to small farmers. The beets and potatoes are roasted separately and combined with a dressing of sour cream and dill weed and garnished with fresh parsley and chives. The lighter flavor of the roasted potato balances the heavier flavored beet creating a surprisingly delightful combination. You will be tempted to eat this salad as a stand-alone meal but it also pairs nicely with with a green salad, cheesy flat bread, or a grass fed steak. (Find our recipe here at Fresh Bites Daily.)
Combine the flavor of beets and watermelon, perfect for those June and July days when the beet harvest reaches its peak on the east coast and the watermelons are just beginning to roll in. We Californians can enjoy it even sooner. Diana at My Humble Kitchen recommends it with the flavor of balsamic vinegar. (Find the recipe at My Humble Kitchen.)
For a simple grated beet salad, this blend of beet, citrus, chives, and olive oil is a bright combination of flavors that, like the beet citrus salad above, complements both a heavy beef-based entrée or a simple bed of brown rice pilaf. (Find the recipe at the New York Times.)
I love this salad idea by Sylvie at Gourmande in the Kitchen who shaves her beets raw with a mandolin and chooses a golden beet for a lighter flavor. (Find the recipe at Gourmande in the Kitchen.)
For added nutrition and a new flavor experience, fermented beets can be a great experiment. Get started with this basic recipe for fermented shredded beets at GNOWFGLINS. (Find it at GNOWFGLINS.) Lydia at Divine Health offers spiced pickled beets. (Find it at Divine Health.) Jenny at Nourished Kitchen offers fermented beets with ginger and orange. (Find it at Nourished Kitchen.)
With the health benefits of beets and their natural sweetness, beet-based desserts are the new rage among creative cooks. Use a beet purée as you would a purée of pumpkin — in muffins, cookies, cakes, and sweet breads. The color is delightful and the flavor has so far passed the taste test of my epically picky 10-year-old. It helps that he has no idea where the vibrant red comes from. This chocolate muffin recipe will get you started. (Find the recipe at Pinch My Salt.)
It would be easy to overlook and discard those green beet tops but they are not only edible, they are delicious, particularly the tender leaves. You can use them like any other green. Kris at Attainable Sustainable offers some ideas for you. (Find the particulars at Attainable Sustainable.)
Here in California, our beet harvest is at its peak this month. Californians ought to make a bee-line to their local farmer’s markets to enjoy the beet bounty before it is over. Throughout cooler parts of the country, beet lovers will feast throughout the summer.