Give beets a chance: Country split over sweet and earthy veggie

Beets for health<br/> Quick bite: One cup of beets contains about 75 calories.<br/> The good: An excellent source of the B vitamin, folate and a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper and phosphorus.<br/> The bad

For beet's sake, we're a nation divided. And you thought the stimulus money was controversial.

A few weeks ago, the first seedlings were planted in the new White House vegetable garden. For eat-local, eat-healthy advocates, this was huge, since there hasn't been a garden on the grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt's time.

But unlike President Barack Obama's highly publicized overtures to foreign leaders, the commander in chief isn't reaching out to his enemies in the vegetable patch. Beets, which Obama is said to dislike, are getting the presidential snub. Fifty-five other vegetables for the garden apparently passed muster.

This has bloggers abuzz, especially after the news came to light in a New York Times post last month from columnist Tara Parker-Pope. (Go to http://well.blogs.nytimes.com and search for "beets.")

Passions run deep in the beet debate, with or without Obama as the lightning rod. One comment at the Times site pleads, "Can't we all just get along?"

The truth is, there's not much middle ground where beets are concerned. People love 'em or hate 'em.

Take Joan Collar of Kiawah Island. "I didn't get the beet gene," she says with a laugh while paying for produce last week at Stono Farm Market on Johns Island.

Give her credit. She says she's tried and failed to be won over many times, many ways.

Beets "sort of leave a little bitter aftertaste," says Collar. And the texture is a another turn-off.

"I'll eat the greens before I eat the beet," she says.

By comparison, Babs Ambrose, the market's proprietor, waxes like beet fans tend to do.

"I love beets," she says. "First of all, I like the texture. I like the rush of sweet when you bite into it. And the smell is so earthy."

Granted, fresh raw beets aren't especially pretty. They're hard, a bit rough and look in need of a good scrubbing. Then there's the long, hairy-ish root.

"People think it tastes like dirt would taste. I hear that all the time," says Ambrose. "I like that taste."

Beets are well-received by members of the Ambrose Family Farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, she says. Between supplying 925 members and the Stono Farm Market, the Ambrose farm has 3 acres planted in beets and needs to harvest about 1,700 bunches a week at peak season.

Beets are a cooler-weather crop, she says. The beets in the ground now are starting to get some size on them and will finish up in June. The farm will plant another crop in September.

Ambrose sees some customers coming around to beets, particularly fresh vs. canned.

"People are experimenting more with them. They love the bottoms and never knew they could eat the tops. Do anything with them (greens) that you would with spinach."

Alas, in spite of the testimonials, it appears nothing is going to overturn this veggie's veto. So the beet goes on ... just not at the White House.

The basics

Red-purple beets by far are the most common, but you may find other colors at specialty grocers such as Earth Fare or at farmers markets. Gold varieties and the red-and-white-striped "candy cane" Chiogga beet are milder flavored than red.

To prepare: Cut greens stem 1 inch from top of bulb. Leave root intact. Wash bulb and greens separately. Do not peel unless using raw.

To boil: For every 1 pound of prepared beets, bring 12 cups water and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a stockpot. Add the beets, rapidly return the water to a boil, then cook, covered, until tender when pierced through with a knife. Allow about 20 minutes for small and baby beets, 30-35 minutes for medium and 45-60 minutes for large. Drain, then plunge into cold water to cool. When cool enough to handle, slice off the stems and root and slip off the skins.

To roast: Wrap prepared beets (still wet, 3 to a packet) in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake in 400-degree oven until fork tender, 30-60 minutes, depending on size. When cool enough to handle, slip off peel.

Beets Napoleon

Ingredients

Cooked red or golden beets

Goat cheese log

Arugula for serving

Fresh orange vinaigrette

Rosemary sprig for garnish

For the orange vinaigrette:

2 oranges, zested

2 small oranges, juiced or 1 large orange, juiced

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 clove garlic, peeled

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Slice cooked beets into evenly thick rounds. Slice goat cheese log into rounds about the same thickness. On a bed of arugula, stack beets and goat cheese alternately into a small tower.

Meanwhile, in a blender, combine the orange zest, orange juice, balsamic vinegar, honey, garlic, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. With the blender running, add the olive oil in a steady stream until combined. Transfer to a container and store in the refrigerator. (May have leftover.)

When ready to serve, drizzle vinaigrette over stack and place a rosemary sprig in the top.

At the Tomato Shed Cafe, part of the Stono Farm Market on Johns Island, beets are sometimes featured this way, layered with goat cheese and drizzled with orange vinaigrette. Any fruit or citrus dressing, such as raspberry vinaigrette, may be substituted for the orange.

Roasted Green Bean, Red Onion and Beet Salad

Makes 10 servings

Ingredients

10 large beets, trimmed

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

4 red onions, each cut into 6 wedges

2 1/2 pounds slender green beans, trimmed, cut into 3-inch lengths

1/4 cup water

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap beets tightly in foil. Place directly on oven rack. Roast until tender when pierced with knife, about 1 hour. Cool beets. Peel and quarter beets. Transfer to large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons thyme, salt and pepper; toss to coat.

Spray 2 large rimmed baking sheets with nonstick spray. Divide onion wedges between prepared baking sheets. Brush onions on both sides with 2 tablespoons oil; sprinkle with 4 teaspoons thyme, salt and pepper. Arrange onions cut side down and roast until golden brown on bottom, about 10 minutes. Turn onions over. Roast until golden brown and tender, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer to another large bowl.

Divide green beans between same baking sheets. Drizzle beans with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup water, and 2 teaspoons thyme. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil and roast until almost crisp-tender, about 14 minutes. Uncover and continue to roast until water evaporates and beans are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl with onions. (Beets, onions, and green beans can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Drizzle onions and green beans with balsamic vinegar; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with beets and serve warm or at room temperature.

Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine, June 2002

Golden Beet Carpaccio

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

4 medium (2 1/2-inch diameter) golden beets, trimmed, scrubbed

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup very thinly sliced red onion

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons drained capers

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

6 cups (loosely packed) baby arugula

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss beets with oil in roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt. Cover pan with foil. Roast beets until tender, about 50 minutes. Let beets stand covered at room temperature 20 minutes. Peel beets. Place in bowl; cover and chill at least 1 hour. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.)

Toss onion, oil, capers and chives in small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Thinly slice beets. Arrange beets in concentric circles on each of 6 plates. Mound arugula atop center of beets on each. Spoon onion-caper mixture over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

This dish is a veggie take on classic carpaccio. Chioggia (red and white striped) beets also would be beautiful.

Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine, April 2007

Beet Greens

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 pound beet greens

1 strip of thick-cut bacon, chopped (or a tablespoon of bacon fat)

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 large garlic clove, minced

3/4 cup of water

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/6 cup of cider vinegar (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons)

Directions

Wash the greens in a sink filled with cold water. Drain greens and wash a second time. Drain greens and cut away any heavy stems. Cut leaves into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

In a large skillet or 3-quart saucepan, cook bacon until lightly browned on medium heat (or heat 1 tablespoon bacon fat). Add onions, cook over medium heat 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions soften and start to brown. Stir in garlic. Add water to the hot pan, stirring to loosen any particles from bottom of pan. Stir in sugar and red pepper. Bring mixture to a boil.

Add the beet greens, gently toss with the onion mixture so the greens are well-coated. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 5-15 minutes until the greens are tender. Stir in vinegar.

Adapted from simplyrecipes.com