I adore beets. Their deep red color is so sensual, and their smell so earthy. Yes, it's a culinary cliche! I know, you're probably thinking "That's what all beet-lovers say, but I'm not one of them. Beets taste like dirt." Well, I can't promise these recipes will make you love them, but... more than one of my friends has said they never liked beets before they had them at my house! Of course, it helps to wash them very thoroughly with a brush, and maybe scrape them with a knife to get off the tough parts of the skin.
Beets are super-easy to grow, you can plant them almost any time of the year (maybe not in the dead of winter) and they are pretty pest-free in my experience. Even in the heat of ABQ summers, my beets have not turned woody, although I've heard that can happen. Chard is the exact same species of plant, just a different variety, bred for tender leaves rather than big roots.
My all-time favorite way to eat beets:
This is a very simple procedure, from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. Slice them 1/8-1/4" thick and steam them until they are tender. Then while they are still hot, drizzle them with a little bit of vinegar - any kind will do, but I particularly like red wine, white wine, or cider. Sprinkle a few chives over them, and that's it! They really don't even need salt or pepper. The beets are tender but not jellylike, and the flavor is clean and fresh. They're delicious hot, or cold (like on a salad, perhaps with walnuts and goat cheese or gorgonzola). These are Chioggia beets, with alternating pink and white rings - gorgeous!
And if you're feeling a little sad about throwing away that huge bunch of beautiful greens, here's what to do:
Beet greens can be tough, but if you have a good-looking bunch, cut them off and store them separately from the roots. I like to cook them using Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook recipe for chard. This is surprisingly, outrageously delicious. I could eat the whole bowl myself in one sitting!
1.5 lb chard or beet greens, coarsely chopped (including stems)
2-3 Tbs olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
a little salt and lots of pepper
Heat oil in a large skillet, add the garlic and chard and stir-fry until limp, perhaps slightly browned. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and vinegar. Serve hot or cold.
And now some fancy stuff:
If you're getting bored with beet salad, try this - Scarlet Quinoa, Beet and Cucumber Salad. My friend Antonia sent me this recipe after having something similar at someone's house, and since I love beets and I've heard quinoa is good for you... I thought I'd try it. It is gorgeous! Very tasty - a light yet hearty cold salad. Food fact: quinoa has the highest amount of protein of any grain!
One of my personal favorites is Beet and Goat Cheese Pizza. I first had this at a restaurant called Carmelita in Seattle, with golden beets. Wow! All you need is a pizza dough (raw or prepared), then you throw on some olive oil, garlic, beets (steamed, as above), and goat cheese (or maybe gorgonzola!) Bake it until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.
Or perhaps you'd like to try a borscht.... My mom always made Mollie Katzen's Russian Cabbage Borscht from the Moosewood Cookbook. But there are zillions of borscht recipes online, and I bet they're all pretty good. Happy beet-eating!