Monday, July 19, 2010

Beets Three Ways

I meant to post my Cantaloupe Vigor piece today, which will describe the major mental doings in our garden, but I won't be able to download Jane's photos until later this week, that is if the cantaloupe and watermelon permit me to leave the property. (They're the new sherrifs in town.)

Since it is too hot to exert any extra effort, I will fall back, as I do daily all summer it seems, on beets.

The beets grown in Orange County, New York, like our onions, are widely known for their excellence.  They grow and develop beautifully in the region's black soil, which in recent years has given its name to our "tipico" local red wine, Black Dirt Red from Warwick Valley Winery, which is sort of our local Beaujolais.  I'd love to say that Black Dirt Red reflects the local terroir but the grapes are actually grown upstate in the Finger Lake region and brought to Warwick for crushing and vinification.  No matter -- it's nice to drink something quasi-local.  (Warwick Valley Winery's really outstanding products are its eaux-de-vies, which are made with our outstanding local apples and pears.)

We cook and pickle beets as soon as we can find them in the farm markets and eat them until we are sick of them, which usually takes most of the summer.  Here is the recipe we use:

Pickled Beets

Remove tops and greens from beets; trim tops and bottoms

Place beets in cold water, bring to boil and simmer until beets are tender – 30-40 minutes

Rinse beets under cold water and allow to cool.  Remove skin from beets and slice, quarter or dice, as you prefer.

Dress beets as follows:

Chopped scallions, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Other vinegars can be substituted (an example follows below) to achieve a different flavor.


Chopped scallions, “sushi” or other seasoned rice wine vinegar, 2 tbsp. soy sauce.

I am semi-ashamed to say that, until yesterday, I used to discard the beet greens even though I knew they were edible and considered delicious (that is, if you like things like kale and collard greens).  I finally decided that this was silly and the tremendous heat notwithstanding, I prepared this simple, obvious and delicious dish of beet greens, which I recommend highly:

Beet Greens
While this recipe calls for discarding the stems, if you want you can use them too if they aren't too woody. Just cut them into 1-inch segments and add them to the onions after the onions have been cooking for a minute.

1 lb. beet greens
1-2 strips thick-cut bacon chopped (or a tablespoon of bacon fat)
1/4 cup chopped onion
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cups water
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/6 cup cider vinegar

1 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.
2 In a large skillet or 3-qt saucepan, cook bacon until lightly browned on medium heat (or heat 1 Tbsp of bacon fat). Add onions, cook over medium heat 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occassionally, 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.
3 Add the beet greens, gently toss in 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. (For kale or collard greens continue cooking additional 20 to 25 minutes or until desired tenderness.)
Serves 4.
Because the preceding recipe was so good, next up will be: 

  • 2 bunches beet greens and/or spinach
  • 2-4 cloves garlic
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sweet paprika
  • Cumin
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Juice of one lemon
  1. Clean 2 bunches of beet greens, 2 bunches of spinach, or a combination, by putting them in a clean dishpan filled with cold water.  Agitate well, leave to soak a few minutes, lift out, drain the water (and sand!), and repeat until there is no sand.  (This is both easier and much more effective than the running water and colander method.)
  2. Slice horizontally, about 1/4 inch wide, and put into a deep pot.  Add a spoon or two of water if they seem dry.  Cover and steam on medium low heat for 10-15 minutes or until soft.  Let cool.
  3. Put the greens in a wire colander over a bowl and press out as much liquid as possible. (You can save it for soup made with all the holiday leftovers.)
  4. Finely chop 2 to 4 cloves of garlic and put in a large frying pan with 3 T (tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil.  Saute at medium high until garlic begins to brown. Add greens, stir and cook a few minutes.
  5. Add 1 t (teaspoon) paprika, 1 t ground cumin, 1 t oregano, 1 t kosher or other salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir and cook a few more minutes, adding a bit of reserved liquid or olive oil if it seems dry.  Add cumin if desired, but it’s easy to overdo the oregano.
  6. Remove from heat, squeeze in the juice of one lemon (can be partly bottled juice), and taste for salt and lemon.  Serve at room temperature.


  1. to be honest i really hate beets, they are the one of the only foods i will not let my lips touch

  2. Interesting. I was like you once -- for a long time, actually. Then everything changed. In my case it was because the beets I was served as a child were truly disgusting. They came out of a jar or a can and were called "candied beets". I wasn't great on vegetables and have never had a great sweet tooth, so they were doomed for me. For that reason, for years I also resisted my mother's importunings to eat the Russian soup called borscht, which she liked in both its cold and hot varieties. (My mom's father was born in Russia and she liked all sorts of Russian food.) Then once at the Russian Tea Room, a famous restaurant in NYC, I tried borscht (it seemed right to do so) and I loved it. (Later, while making it at home, I suffered the fate of many first-time borscht-chefs-with-a-Waring blender and painted the walls scarlet with beet juice.) Even later, I tried the vegetable itself, probably because I was with my mother-in-law, who liked beets and because as you get older, you sometimes get more adventurous, or at least you find that your tastes have changed. I discovered that beets, in their several varieties, are truly delicious, unique and irreplaceable. As a "deeply colored" vegetable, they are also a very good and healthy food. My mother made me promise her always to keep trying foods I don't think I like and in many cases I have found this to be a rewarding discipline, so I recommend it. It's obviously not a requirement, but you never know what pleasures await you around certain corners.

  3. Oh -- one more thing. I know you eat salad, so it's entirely possible that you would like beet greens, which taste nothing like beets. I'm sure there are Greek dishes made with the green tops of root vegetables. Again, it's a pity to waste something that's nutritious and can be combined with onion, garlic and olive oil.

  4. ya actually i love dandelion greens which im guessing are similar to beet greens so i will try the salad

  5. They are very similar to dandelion greens. Good luck at your swim meet today.