We never ate beets growing up; they simply never made their way onto my mother's shopping list. However, I've taken the time to quickly correct that situation and am currently making up for lost time. I've got purple-stained fingers for proof.
Beets, also known as beetroot, often take a back seat in the vegetable world, and that saddens me. Beets are often relegated to a strange shelf of a produce department, way in the back. I've heard friends and customers say:
"Well, even if I did buy them, I'd have absolutely no idea what to do with them."
"If I really wanted them I'd buy them canned. It's much easier."
"Do I look Russian to you? Nyet."
"Beets taste like dirt. No thank you."
"Why is this creepy tattooed guy following me around the produce department? I"m calling security."
I'm ok with being on a one-man mission to sing the praises of beets. Because properly done, beets are so utterly satisfying, so unique and flavorful, that they become something of a superstar on the table. No, trust me on this one. There's nothing like them. That nutty, sweet, earthy, iron-y flavor cannot be matched by any other of Mother Nature's vegetables.
Ok, so if I can't sell people on flavor surely I can sell them on nutrition. Beets pack a nutritional punch and contain compounds that protect against heart disease and other maladies. Beets have betacyanin, giving them that deep purple color, and it's also rich in beneficial flavonoids. Include decent amounts of folate, manganese, fiber, potassium, iron and magnesium and you'll see why beets are the way to go.
(However, beets are high in Oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in the animals, plants, and us. Oxalates can become concentrated in body fluids and crystalize, so you should consult your doctor if you are prone to kidney or gallbladder problems. I am not a doctor, fyi.)
Beets have the highest sugar content of all vegetables, which not only gives them that unique sweetness but also plays a big part in their texture when roasted. The sugars carmelize, giving them a delicious sweet, roasted taste and shiny appearance. But you don't have to fire up the oven to enjoy them–grate beets into salads or on top of soups, sauté the greens on top of the beets as you would mustard greens or chard, juice them, microwave them, steam them, fry them, mash them, etc.
However you prepare them, be gentle. You don't want to bruise or cut the beet's skin when rinsing them before using. They may seem hearty, and to an extent they are, but treat them with kind hands and let them lavish you with taste and good-for-you compounds. What's your way with beets?
P.S. How do I state this gingerly? Consuming beets can often leave you with Beeturia
, a harmless physiological process that turns, um, well, your "output" red. Not to worry, it's just your body's way of ridding itself of excess pigments found in beets.