The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

All I'm Saying Is: Give Beets A Chance

Please reconsider beets! These vegetables are one of the most disliked in the food pallette. Some people have had a negative experience with them as children. I suppose that has a lot to do with cold, canned beets from the salad bar. I never found them appealing when I was young, either.

But these vegetables are really magnificent and have much potential to augment your repertoire. If you are a root vegetable lover like me, beets are an important component to that category! They're sweet, they're tasty. The Russians make borscht soup out of them. My observation is that women like them more than men, but I love them. They are high in Vitamin B-6, which makes them really good for expectant mothers and women preparing to be pregnant.
Right off the bat, you can eat the whole thing. Beets were initially cultivated for their greens, probably by the Romans. It wasn't until solidly in the Middle Ages that the roots were bred to be larger and were only then considered a premier part of the vegetable. I usually steam the greens until they are soft, and eat them plain or with a little bit of salt and butter.

I prefer the roots, though. I cook them in two stages. First, I cut off the leaves, leaving about an inch of stem still attached to the roots. I scrub them with a brush under water, removing any dirt but leaving any major roots attached. I then take the washed beets, wrap a bunch of them together in one sheet of aluminum foil, and bake them. People say you get a different taste depending on the temperature you cook with. I usually stay in the 325-375 range and cook them anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours (I rarely go under one hour, though). Beets are done when a fork goes through them like butter and when the skin peels off easily. Older beets many need a longer time to soften, but if they are too old they may end up woody--there's not much you can do when it gets to that stage, so cut off those sections when you eat them. No matter what, its hard to overcook beets.

I then let the beets cool. After that, its time to peel them and cut off the roots and tops (you keep these on during cooking so that the juices stay in the beets). You can peel them with a fork or knife. I generally use a fingernail. Keep in mind that beets can seriously stain your countertops or cutting boards! Traditional recipes recommend you do not eat the skins. I would not be surprised that as beets catch on in popularity in our modern culture that we will discover that the skins of beets are just as precious as the skins of potatoes, but as of right now they are usually not recommened.

Once you have peeled and cooked the beets, they are ready for any recipe. You can put them in the fridge until you are ready to use them. You can eat them plain and cold. Fresh beets have a wonderful earthy taste when cold. But here is the ultimate:

Erin Go Beets

Take your cooked and peeled, still-hot beets and mash them! Just use a regular potato masher and go to town. Add in generous amounts of butter and sour cream. It is difficult to estimate how much you need of each. I use fairly equal amounts, but that can vary. For 4-5 medium sized beets, I may use a big scoop or two of sour cream and a half-stick of butter, but don't quote me on that. It really depends on the level of creaminess and consistency you like. Stir it all up together!

These mashed beets a la Erin are amazing, and even the most hardcore beet hater will warm up to them (as a side note, this is the same way Erin makes mashed potatoes).

Some people eat beets raw, but it is generally discouraged. I'm sure they are fine to eat that way occassionally, but--like potatoes--can be tough on your system when eaten raw on a regular basis. I don't know all the facts, but you can google it, if you want.

Oh, almost forgot: A certain percentage of people will end up with discolored urine or bowel movement after eating beets. This is perfectly normal!


  1. I love bortch! An ex-bf introduced me to it and I got quickly addicted. I always pictured it staining my insides a nice color of bright pink, too! ;)

  2. I really like the mashed beets recipe. I recently tried it with plain yogurt instead of sour cream, and that seems to work good too.

  3. Don't know if I ever had borscht, but its something I'd like to try someday.

    Erin did a "hmmmm" at your suggestion, Scott. Maybe we'll try that someday! By the way, the beets you gave turned out great.

    But I guess the bigger question is: What are you doing with plain yogurt lying around? People eat that?

  4. I don't like plain yogurt by itself, but I wanted to try yogurt from grass-fed cows, and there weren't a lot of choices at Whole Foods. I'll have to flavor it or mix it with things like vegetables to make them creamy.

  5. In fact, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Scott Teresi for sponsoring this post. His gift of beets made this commentary possible.

    I urge all readers to show your appreciation by shopping at Teresi, Inc.

    the Admin.

  6. I'm still waiting for him to put up a bio page on me... ;)

    Good one, Frank, I pondered the same question about the plain yogurt.