Beets are a hard push for picky eaters. Kids especially, and many adults too, frequently curl a lip and shy away from the deep red root. Beets have a bad rap and I am right there with you; irked by the thought of the slightly slimy, gelatinous red mush often called beets. The offensive maroon substance on salad bars, straight from a can, just like what my grandparents served, nearly terminated by beet career.
Luckily, good sense and fresh food ushered me into beet loving terrain, as I hope a fresh picked, well prepared beet will do for others with the same affliction. It actually surprises me that beets are not more popular than they are, given their high sugar to low calorie ratio, a seemingly perfect food for the many out there looking for a guilt free fix for a sweet-tooth.
Surprisingly, an entire cup of raw beets contains only about 50 calories but is high in natural sugars, fiber, antioxidants and vitamin C. The phytonutrient contents in beets are extensive and contribute to the nurturing, cleansing and digestive healing effects that beets have on the body. Betacyanin, one of the nutrients that gives beets their vibrant color is also a powerful, naturally occuring cancer fighting agent.
In Eastern medicine traditions, the beet is known to improve heart health, circulation, blood purification, liver health, intestinal function, and menstrual health in women. Stagnancy that often develops in the kidneys and intestines due to the modern dietary practices add high stress lifestyle are thought to be aided by regular beet consumption, which helps promote the detoxification of the liver and lubrication of the intestinal wall.
Beet greens, which are also edible and very delicious (don’t even think about throwing this part away), are packed with chlorophyll, vitamin A, iron and calcium. Young, tender beet greens can be consumed raw in salads while more mature stalks can be lightly braised as you would other dark, leafy greens.
It is probably a good thing that the canned, sticky-sweet beets are no longer the high fashion for consumption, if not purely for the sake of flavor, for the nutrient quality as well. Baking whole beets in dry heat is the best way to maintain the high nutrient level, not to mention the maximum flavor and intense color. Simply wrap washed, whole beets in aluminum foil and bake in a 400-degree oven until tender.
Fresh baby beets, however, hardly make it to the oven in my house. Instead, I usually savor their tenderness and mildly sweet flavor by shaving them raw into salads or thinly slicing them and serving with fresh goat cheese or a minted vinaigrette.
It is unlike me to acquire a stockpile of beets, as I usually eat them as quickly as I acquire them, but a recent abundance from my organic produce delivery inspired a new recipe trial that I am excited to share – beet pancakes. No, not the beet version of potato latkes, real, fluffy pancakes that beg for a drizzle of maple syrup and a pile of fresh berries.
Baked beets, pureed and added to the batter brought a mild earthy sweetness and a notable tender and moist texture to the pancakes, not unlike bananas do for banana bread. The color was stunning and I am willing to bet that kids would gobble them down without hesitation.
Check back on Thursday for the beet pancakes and other beet-lover recipes, or at least some inspiration for those that are not yet fans of this sweet red tuber.