My method for managing and storing beets, and a favourite way of preparing them.
Listen while you read to “Ai” (= “Love” in Japanese, pronounced “i”) because I love beets!
While I have had considerable success getting kale to grow prolifically in the Panache Garden, it has proven to be a massive, time-consuming pain in the ass to get all the cabbage aphids off of it prior to cooking, so I have made the decision to stop growing kale, leaving it for the professionals and buy it at the farmers’ market, and then devote the recovered garden real estate to growing more beets and carrots instead.
Kale, although very pretty and adding lots of visual interest and texture to the garden, grows up into huge, unruly plants that take up assloads of space and topple over, requiring staking (= high maintenance!), so I can get many more beets and carrots with less work out of the same amount of space. Beets, while being mild-mannered and relatively small plants, also happen to have beautiful, multi-coloured leaves. Need I say more? Well, I’m going to….
Here is how I deal with beets, and yes, they are dirty!
Rule #1: Grow them yourself if you have any capacity to do so. I have successfully grown beets in a half-wine barrel. Not very many, but still….
Rule #2: Make sure you’re wearing a shirt that you don’t mind getting spattered with brightly coloured juice.
Rule #3: Try to get as much dirt as practical off of them BEFORE bringing them in the house without actually washing them, unless you’re going to eat them within the next day or so.
Rule #4: Eat the greens too. They’re delicious!
To manage them once you get them inside:
Separate the beets from the greens and put the UNWASHED beets in a bag in the fridge if you’re not using them immediately. Leave them DRY because in this case, moisture makes them rot faster. If using immediately, scrub them and cook them.
With the greens, I tear off the stems, which I tear into shorter pieces (4” or so. They could be shorter, but this is the “art of the possible” given the space constraints I’m under and commitment load I’m juggling!) and put them in the compost bucket. Perhaps one of these days I’ll find a recipe for beet stems, but for the most part the red stems are full of oxalic acid, which is not very good to eat, so I just compost those. I learned at the farmers’ market from a vendor that leaving the greens on root veggies pulls the moisture out of the roots, so taking them off is best.
I place the stemmed leaves in the sink, which I fill with cold water with a generous splash of white vinegar — good for killing germs and encouraging any ride-along insects to run (or swim!) for cover; give them a good rinse, and place in a zip-loc bag with a couple layers of paper towels to catch the excess water. I have found that storing greens like this keeps them crisp so they’ll last longer if I’m not cooking them immediately. They tend to wilt immediately upon being separated from the root they were growing on, so rinsing them keeps them crisp. Just make sure to give the leaves a good shake when fishing them out of the water so you don’t end up with a lake in the bottom of your bag, which WILL rot the greens.
Only put an amount of greens in the spread-out paper towels that will fit easily into the bag! The point of this exercise is to make it so the bag will sit upright and stay open on it’s own so you don’t have to keep standing it up and holding it open as you put the leaves in. It was quite an ordeal to get that fat of a package into that bag 😦
By all means, if you can, use them shortly after harvesting. It is SO much simpler to just toss the rinsed stemmed greens into a pot of blanching liquid or a steaming basket (if there is a several-hour delay between harvesting and cooking, just put the steaming basket full of prepared leaves in a recycled plastic grocery sack in the fridge to hold and keep crisp until you cook them!), than fussing around with this holding technique 🙂
I write the date on the bag of greens, and then put the bag in the fridge for use in a quick, simple mid-week dinner. They’re also nice tossed in a soup that calls for spinach or escarole or some leafy-like thing. If you happen to have tons of beets, the stemmed, washed, bagged greens can also be put in the freezer, as they’ll be perfectly nice in soups and would probably sauté well, although I have not tried that yet.
For the beets, my favourite way to prepare them is as follows:
Give them a good rinse/scrub and then pile them into a foil package to toss in the oven (I usually set the foil packet inside a cake pan in case it leaks juice, which it almost always does. It rinses easily out of the baking pan, which is less hassle than having to clean the oven.) once it has preheated to about 300 degrees. Even if it hasn’t reached 300 yet, it doesn’t really matter. Put them in anyway since there is no objective to sear the outsides of them. Forget about them for about 90 minutes or so. I find that they are never quite done even when they start to smell good, and the skins are far easier to remove if I leave them in for another 20-30 minutes AFTER they start to smell good, depending on how big they are and how many there are.
When they’re done (= feel reasonably soft if you pinch one through the foil with a pair of salad tongs), take them out and plonk down in the sink to cool. They cool faster if you open the package. Once it is possible to handle them, rub the skins off under running water, place the skinned beets in a bowl and put the skins in the compost.
Depending on how many beets you are dealing with, juice one or two oranges of practically any variety (I especially like blood oranges, particularly with golden beets — in fact, I almost always do a mix of reds and goldens), plus a small lemon or lime and set the juice aside. If you have the time, patience and correct tool in hand to zest the citrus, that would make a very nice addition to the sauce as well as to sprinkle on top of the finished dish. Have some fresh herbs washed and chopped on hand as well. Chervil is especially nice, but basil, parsley and/or dill are perfectly lovely too, and some toasted sliced or slivered almonds.
Now you get to the cooking part:
Put the greens on to steam (remembering to put water in the steaming pot. I have been known to forget — yes — really!)
Put a sauté pan on the stove over med-high heat and toss in a nice, big chunk of butter. How much depends again on how many beets and how rich of a sauce you want. I usually use half a stick or so (= ± 1/4 cup) for about eight small-ish beets.
Once the butter is sizzling away, put the cooled beets in to reheat, roll around to coat them with the butter, pour in the orange/lemon/lime/whatever citrus juice (just make sure to have a nice sweet-sour balance) and raise the heat to reduce the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add the zest, if you made any.
When it’s almost done (looks more jam-like than juice-like), give it a generous splash of Grand Marnier or Cointreau or Limoncello or whatever citrus-y liqueur you have on hand (I have used Chambord in a pinch, and that worked out just fine). This will increase the sweetness, so think about that when making your juice mix. This will also very likely ignite and flambé the dish, sometimes spectacularly, so make sure to keep your hair out of the way! Also, DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE GREENS! They only take a few minutes to steam, depending on how mature they are.
Place the steamed greens in a serving dish and top with the beets in the orange glaze. Top the whole thing with the slivered almonds and clipped fresh herbs. If you have lavender flowers, be sure to put some of those on top as well.
Now you have a spectacularly beautiful and delicious side dish that goes with just about anything! The leftovers are also nice as a topping for salad, or just throw it in a sauté pan to reheat on another day.