Archive for Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What do I do with … beets: Simple preparation yields superb side dish

Diane Chrislip grows beets in her garden southwest of Eudora.

Diane Chrislip grows beets in her garden southwest of Eudora.

July 15, 2009


Diane Chrislip, who lives southwest of Eudora, grows beets in her garden. Her husband hates them, but she’s trying to turn her grandchildren into beet lovers like herself.

Diane Chrislip, who lives southwest of Eudora, grows beets in her garden. Her husband hates them, but she’s trying to turn her grandchildren into beet lovers like herself.

“First rule in roadside beet sales: Put the most attractive beets on top. The ones that make you pull the car over and go, ‘Wow, I need this beet right now.’ Those are the money beets.”

— Dwight K. Schrute, NBC’s “The Office,” season 3

“First rule in roadside beet sales: Put the most attractive beets on top. The ones that make you pull the car over and go, ‘Wow, I need this beet right now.’ Those are the money beets.” — Dwight K. Schrute, NBC’s “The Office,” season 3


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

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



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.

Harvard Beets

6-8 beets

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

3 oranges

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,


Kathy Theis-Getto 8 years, 6 months ago

I love harvard beets, too! That's the only way Mom fixed them when we were kids. I did the same for my kids, and now the grandkids. Yummy.

Danielle Brunin 8 years, 6 months ago

As a general rule, I hate beets. Something about the texture and the half-hearted sweetness makes me feel like I'm eating rotten fruit. However, the ones on Wheatfield's salads are very good so I know there is hope...

overthemoon 8 years, 6 months ago

One of my mom's ideas of healthy food was canned beets. The sliced, slightly pickled purply disks that dyed everything on your plate bright magenta. I thought I hated the beets, but I think was the tinny taste of the can that probably set up a lifelong aversion to beets.

canyon_wren 8 years, 6 months ago

I love beets, too, and the smell of them cooking is definitely a summer smell. I hate Harvard beets, though. That is about the only way we had them as kids and all four of us kids disliked them. I have a great recipe for pickled beets that has cinnamon sticks in it. It's always a disappointment to get so-called pickled beets at a salad bar and find they have essentially no flavor at all.

I also think beet greens are the best in the line of "greens."

supercowbellninja 8 years, 6 months ago

Beets are good as long as they are part of something else that can mask the fact you are eating beets. The roasted beet salad above sounds delicious.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 6 months ago

I agree with canyon_wren about the beet greens. There are so many greens besides iceberg lettuce, or whatever it is call, to put in salads. If you get any food and it is not prepared right, you are not going to like it. I'm wondering if beets have ever been used as a dye as in a tie dyed tee shirt?

Adrienne Sanders 8 years, 6 months ago

Irish, I think beet juice as dye would not be colorfast and you'd be dyeing everything you touched pink with your tye-dye beet shirt. Including your skin.

I never ever ate beets until a couple years ago someone finally convinced me to try the ones at Wheatfields, which are delicious. This year I tried to make my own pickled beets, they were just okay. I will try again. The greens went in a quiche and were yummy.

canyon_wren 8 years, 6 months ago

dulcinea47--if you want my pickled beets recipe, let me know. It is fool-proof and so simple. The first time I ate them at someone else's house, I made a complete pig of myself and was so embarrassed, but just couldn't get enough of that taste, so I had to have the recipe. I use canned sliced beets for the pickles, as I seldom have access to enough fresh beets to do more than just eat THOSE with butter!

Bossa_Nova 8 years, 6 months ago

ok everybody, lemme tell ya cooking beets is the wrong way to go. the best thing to do with beets is the following, trust me, you'll like it:

take your beets, raw, peel them and then grade them in the vegetable grader take about a fourth as many raw carrots and do the same if youre ok with onions, grade maybe half an onion then add a couple tablespoons of vinager and olive oil mix it up and serve as a cold salad.

trust me it's really good like that and you'll pee pink for the next couple of hours

flux 8 years, 6 months ago

Beets are great IF you mix them together with 13 others things to drown out the taste

canyon_wren 8 years, 6 months ago

Sounds good, Bossa_Nova! I will give it a try. My neighbor also just bakes beets in the oven and then peels them--that apparently works, too.

blindrabbit 8 years, 6 months ago

Harvard beets are just a variety of beets, not a preparation. Others are Detroit Red and Cylindrica.

After finishing a jar of pickled beets, save the juice and put some whole peeled hard boiled eggs in the juice and refrigerate. In a couple of days the eggs take up the color and flavor, and the vinegar safely "pickles" them. Um good!

canyon_wren 8 years, 6 months ago

blindrabbit--I guess you didn't read the article? The writer does include a recipe for Harvard beets--using just "regular" beets. That IS actually a way to prepare them. I don't know that I have ever seen any beet seeds called Harvard beets, though there are several varieties, two of which you mentioned. Harvard beets, in my opinion, are kind of sickeningly sweet, without the nice vinegar contrast of pickled beets.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 6 months ago

canyon_wren I would appreciate it if you would put your recipe online. I am finding some great recipes this way. I make cucumber pickles but I don't have a recipe, I just make them. Like my red spaghetti sauce, which is totally thick and cooks for at least two hours. I just put in this and that and it comes out great. Drives some people mad I know. Bossa_Nova Thanks, I am going to try it, but I am going to put it on a soy bacon and tomato sandwich.

canyon_wren 8 years, 6 months ago

Irish--I will put it on in the next hour. I am leaving now to go home from work and don't have the recipe here, of course.

lori 8 years, 6 months ago

I like them grated raw over a green salad with a vinaigrette dressing. I also like them pickled, but never have liked them cooked.

George_Braziller 8 years, 6 months ago

I used to have a huge vegetable garden in the yard of some friends who lived in Old West Lawrence. I tended it and shared the produce. One year I said I wanted plant beets and the response was "Ick, they taste like dirt!"

I kept pushing and finally got to plant some beets which I then pickled.

The next year we planted three times as many.

canyon_wren 8 years, 6 months ago

Irish, here is the recipe:

2 cans (about 15 oz. each) sliced beets 1 1/2 c. sugar 3/4 c. vinegar 2 2-inch cinnamon sticks

Drain beets, reserving liquid in small saucepan. Put sliced beets in two clean pint jars. Add sugar, vinegar and cinnamon sticks to liquid (I generally break the sticks in half). Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Pour the hot liquid over the beets, putting the cinnamon sticks in the jars with them. Let cool and refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving. Yield: 3 cups. Keep in refrigerator.

Note: You can put up three cans of beets, using the liquid from just the two cans (and throw in an extra cinnamon stick, if desired).

I, too, am always glad to find new recipes.

none2--thanks for the background on the Harvard beets--that's pretty interesting! I guess I made it sound like there wasn't any vinegar in those, whereas there was in pickled beets. But the sweet and sour effect is definitely not the same, and it must be something about the cornstarch that made them seem kind of gross to me!

Bill Lee 8 years, 6 months ago

Years ago I was trying to think of a recipe for a contest and decided that beets are underused and underappreciated, so I hit upon the idea of beets au gratin. I figured how could I go wrong with simply covering cooked beets with processed cheese spread (aka Velveeta)? Voila, the perfect side dish. Alas, I didn't have the nerve to actually try it since I envisioned the resulting color and decided I wasn't up to seeing it for real.

A couple of years later I decided to make my imaginary beet recipe a main dish by adding browned ground beef. I called the new variation "Easy, Cheesy, Beefy Beets. I again chickened out, but I offer these ideas to those of you who are braver than I.

George_Braziller 8 years, 6 months ago

I'll pass on the Harvard version of beets. They're ok but that's about all I can say for them. There are so many better ways to prepare them.They bring back memories of really bad lunches at the cafeteria in junior high school.

We had Harvard beets along with "Potato Boats" --Bologne jammed into a muffin tin, a scoop of instant mashed potatoes with really greasy cheap cheese grated on top and then baked in the oven. The important part is to remember to not remove red plastic casing first. The burned plastic makes quite an addition to the pool of grease that forms around the mound of solidified wood putty trying to pass as potatoes.

We all starved that day because no one could choke it down. Those who did spent part of the afternoon in the restroom. Bad memories.

PatKirk 8 years, 6 months ago

One of you mentioned pickled eggs. I don't see it now. I'm tired I guess. Anyway, I love pickled eggs. I get the jars of pickled beets just to eat them and use the juice for eggs.

lounger 8 years, 6 months ago

I always hated beets then...I tried fresh organic beets-A love affair was born! What a difference it made.

Irene 8 years, 6 months ago

If you love Harvard beets and can't get any home-cooked and aren't up to it yourself, try Aunt Nellie's brand in the jar. It's the best of all the commercial brands.

canyon_wren 8 years, 6 months ago

lounger--I haven't tried organic beets yet, but I won't buy anything but organic carrots, now. There's all the difference in the world in the taste of those. Regular carrots taste like kerosene or whatever they use to rid the fields of insects, etc. I strongly recommend them to people who think they don't like carrots.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 6 months ago

canyon_wren Thanks for the recipe. My daughter and I both plan on making them. We always like getting new recipes.

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