Beets are an amazing food. Vibrant crimson in color, nutritious, and wonderfully versatile, they’re good chilled in summer and hot in winter. Boiled and served as a side dish, they’re delicate but toothsome in texture and have a mild, nutty flavor.
As I write this, it’s summer in New York City, and the sun is glaring down from above a low cloud cover which does nothing to dispel its heat. It’s hard to imagine cooking anything just now. It is precisely at times like this that leftover cooked beets, which can keep for more than a week in the refrigerator without any change in flavor or texture, are a useful thing to have around.
Of course, they have to be cooked at some point before they’re eaten. Many stores sell packaged, peeled and boiled beets: these are perfectly acceptable. Canned beets are less so in my opinion, but there are people who like them even better. The most reasonable approach, however, is probably to boil your own. You can boil up a large batch on some relatively cool night, refrigerate the leftovers, and use them for days afterward.
To retain the flavor, nutrients, and cancer-fighting benefits of beets, do not overcook them. Boil them without peeling them first, and leave the root and an inch or so of stem. Run them under cold water after removing them from the pot, then peel and slice. Cooked beets can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two, and in the freezer for longer than that, all without damage to their taste or nutritional value.
Before we move on to the recipes, a word of caution for the uninitiated. Beets turn everything they touch a vivid fuchsia color. And I do mean everything. Please keep this in mind when eating beets because – and I will try to put this delicately – they will tint everything that emerges from you for the next 24 hours. This is completely harmless, but it is also unavoidable, and it can be startling to the unwary.
The first recipe is also the simplest. Chop your leftover beets into cubes no more than 2cm on a side. Sprinkle them into yogurt, mix, et voila! I like Greek yogurt best for this, but any plain yogurt will do. The contrast of the creamy yogurt and the firm cubes of beet is exciting. The mild sweetness of the beet balances the tartness of the yogurt. A popular variation on this is the smoothie; directions are the same as above, with the addition of a blender or food processor. Beet smoothies, poured into molds and frozen, also make refreshing and healthful popsicles.
Spinach, Goat Cheese & Beet Salad
An easy and sophisticated salad can be made with leftover beets, baby spinach, and plain goat cheese. Wash the spinach carefully and remove the stems. Chop your beets into cubes as above, or slice them 1cm thick; whichever you prefer. Similarly, the goat cheese can be served in slices or crumbled over the salad. Dress with a balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious variations on this salad include adding walnuts, green apples (again, sliced or cubed), pears and/or avocado.
Avocado, Beet & Honeydew Salad
The last recipe is for a particular favorite of mine; if I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, this dish would be in the running. Chop your leftover beets into slices or chunks. Do the same with a ripe (but not overripe) avocado and a similarly ripe honeydew melon. Mix together and squeeze lime juice over the whole thing. Serve chilled. This dish works because each of the three main ingredients is mildly sweet in a different way, and the lime unites the flavors and adds some bite. Throw in some fresh berries for a sweeter, fruitier salad. This is good for breakfast, a snack, or dessert.
Beets are a good way to add color, flavor, and vital nutrients to your diet. With a little planning you can incorporate them into delicious summer meals that will liven up even the laziest, hottest days.