NATURE OF THE BEET
Beets are root vegetable closely related to chard and spinach. They are a descendant of the sea beet, a plant that has been eaten for thousands of years, according to “The Field Guide to Produce” by Aliza Green.
Season: They are available year-round, but the season peaks locally from June through August.
Nutrition: Raw beets contain 58 calories per cup, 4 grams of fiber, 11 percent of your daily vitamin C and 37 percent of your daily folate needs, according to www.nutritiondata.com.
How to store: Store unwashed beets in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Because the greens take moisture from the root, cut off all but 1 inch of the greens before storage.
About those stains: Good ol’ red beets contain a dye called betacyanin that will dye anything — from countertops to napkins to fingertips — in its path. If you’re worried about staining your linens but love beets, check out the varieties of white, golden and Chioggia (also known as “candy cane”) beets, that are less likely to turn everything magenta.
— Sarah Henning
HOW TO FIX
Ready to try beets?
Pick firm beets that are small to medium in size, smooth and have bright greens. Lawrence’s Maria-Ines Ground, who grew up in Chile eating beets, prepares them raw, boiled or in soup. Jane Wohletz of Tomato Allie boils hers for about 25 minutes and eats them straight. Meanwhile, Diane Chrislip enjoys them in salad, with an orange glaze or boiled in other recipes.
In the produce kingdom, there might be no more divisive a vegetable than the beet.
Red and sweet, it’s low in calories but big on creating staunch “love it” or “hate it” camps.
The beet war is on. And it’s going strong on several fronts.
Front A: The television show “The Office,” where numerous jokes involve worker bee Dwight’s beet farm. Says boss Michael Scott: “Nobody likes beets, Dwight! Why don’t you grow something that everybody does like? You should grow candy! I’d love a piece of candy right now ... not a beet.”
Front B: President Obama can’t stand beets. First lady Michelle might have an organic garden going on the White House lawn, but you won’t find the vegetable on the president’s plate. He told The Associated Press in November, “I always avoid eating them.”
Front C: Your own dinner table. Whether it be a homecooked meal or a dinner out on the town, the mere presence of beets can leave a mark, and we’re not just talking about their ability to stain.
Diane Chrislip of Eudora is firmly behind the little red roots, and she’s working hard to get her grandchildren on her side. Standing in her way? Her husband. Commence the beet battle.
“My husband won’t touch the beets,” Chrislip says. “But my grown kids and grandkids eat them.”
She says having the children work in the garden, as well as using just the right recipe, has helped cultivate a love of beets.
“When kids help in the garden, I think it makes them more willing to try things because they’ve been involved in planting and growing things. I think it kind of entices them a little bit,” Chrislip says.
Even adults might be so leery of beets as to go their whole lives without trying them. That’s what happened to Jane Wohletz, who runs Tomato Allie at the market with her husband, Jerry. Having requests upon requests from beet lovers, the Lawrence resident decided to give them a whirl after all.
“I never grew them because, honestly, I never ate them, and I always grow what I like. So I thought, ‘OK, I’ll grow beets this year.’ ... We grew them and I thought, ‘I better taste these things, so I know what I’m selling’ — love them,” says Wohletz, who prefers her beets boiled and straight-up. “Oh my God, I never knew!”
For all the love-hate talk, there is one place in town where beet lovers often loudly show their devotion: WheatFields Bakery Cafe, 904 Vt. There, thanks to the presence of beets on the restaurant’s basic salad, beet lovers help the restaurant go through 75 pounds of the vegetable a week. Some folks — stop reading, Mr. President — even ask for only beets.
“One of our regulars, her name is Stella and I think she’s maybe 2, and she cannot get enough of them,” says Jane Patrick, the restaurant’s general manager. “It’s amazing to see little Stella just pound down the beets.”
Patrick believes that for as many people who shirk from WheatFields salad because of beets, there are just as many who are excited about them, making this beet war evenly matched.
“I do think it definitely draws people in that have an affinity for them,” Patrick says. “And it does excite people who are new to our place who look at our salad and are excited by the fact that they can get beets. Stella is probably our biggest beet regular. I think definitely people come in just for it.”
Beet and Carrot Salad
5 small beets, unpeeled, with a little of the green tops left on
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 young carrots, unpeeled
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
Place the beets in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water, add salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until tender, 25 to 40 minutes, depending on their size. Drain, and let cool a little.
In a separate small saucepan, cover the carrots with cold water, add salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until tender, about 20 minutes, depending on their size. Drain and let cool a little.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, salt and black pepper. Whisk in the oil in a thin stream. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
When the beets and carrots are cool enough to handle, peel the and cut into thin slices. Arrange the slices on a round platter or big plate, alternating colors and overlapping the slices, working from the outside of the platter to the inside. Spoon the vinaigrette over all, and garnish with parsley. Serve at once.
— Recipe from Maria-Ines Ground.
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter
Cook beets in a little water until tender. Slip off skin and slice. Set aside beets. To 1/3 cup of the beet cooking water, add brown sugar, vinegar, cornstarch and a pinch of salt. Stir and cook over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Pour sauce over the beets and serve. You can skip the butter if you want to lower the fat content and calories.
— Recipe from Diane Chrislip
Wakarusa Valley Farm Roasted Beet Salad
2 pounds beets (small to medium), rinsed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup white wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 bulb fresh fennel, trimmed, thinly sliced
8 ounces ricotta salata cheese, shaved thin
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Cut one orange in half and squeeze the juice, reserving the other two oranges. Place the whole beets, garlic cloves, thyme, bay leaf, olive oil, white wine and the orange juice in a baking pan. Season with salt and pepper and toss the beets to coat with the mixture. Roast the beets in a 325-degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until tender. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the beets to cool. Peel the beets and dice them into large chunks. Peel the remaining two oranges and cut them into large dice.
Pour the red wine vinegar into a small bowl. Drizzle the olive oil slowly into the vinegar while whisking constantly.
Place the beets, oranges and fennel in a large bowl. Add the vinaigrette and toss to coat. Season the salad with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the beet salad on a chilled platter, or individual salad plates, and top with shaved ricotta salata. Serves 8.
— Recipe from Genovese’s Armando Paniagua for Kansas Farmers Markets, www.ksfarmersmarkets.org.