Beet This!

Local beets stay in season through the fall, bringing delicious flavors and vivid colors to the table.



Photos by Laura Petrilla

With their tough, knobby roots and crown of leafy greens, beets can intimidate the novice cook. Yet few other foods respond so well to the easiest of cooking techniques: roasting. High heat brings out their rich, round, earthy flavors, intensifies their natural sweetness and transforms them from rock-like to fork-tender.

Hues of dark purple-red or sunny gold make the root a pleasure to behold on the plate while varieties such as Chioggia, with its pattern of red-and-white concentric circles, are particularly arresting. An excellent source of folate, a water-soluble form of vitamin B found in food, and a good source of potassium, vitamin C and fiber, beets are nutritious and exceptionally affordable.

The plant, Beta vulgaris, is native to the Mediterranean. While people have eaten it for countless years, originally only the leaves were consumed. (This makes sense when you note that the chard is a variety of the beet.) Eating the root was known by the time of the Greeks, who wrote of it around 300 B.C., although these early roots were long, thin and often pale in color.

beet salad
Recipe for Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Orange Vinaigrette.

The first well-known sweet red beet, called the "Roman Beet," was introduced from Italy and eaten throughout Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, although it was not a staple. In such far-northern climates as Scandinavia, however, beets did form a major part of the vegetable diet; where weather made winter trading impossible, beets ranked among the few garden vegetables that would keep well in storage.

Perhaps it's no surprise then that one of the most famous beet dishes, borscht, a beet soup that's usually topped with sour cream, hails from the chilly regions of Russia and Ukraine. Immigrants from these regions brought the dish to the United States at the turn of the century, and as they settled around the Catskills, earned that region the nickname of "Borscht Belt."

Associations with poverty and peasants gave beets a less-than-glamorous reputation for decades, but that began to change in American cuisine with the farm-to-table movement, which began during the 1970s with restaurants like Chez Panisse, located in Berkeley, Calif.

Today, trendy menus everywhere feature beets of all sizes: They might be freshly roasted and used in salad (see recipe, below), lightly pickled or grated into chutney or relish. With the local beet season lasting through the end of October, early fall is a great time to bring these beautiful, hardy, delicious root vegetables into your kitchen. 

Top Picks: Beets grow well in western Pennsylvania, and peak season runs from June through October. It's a testament to their place in regional cuisine that this is the birthplace of Pennsylvania Dutch pickled beets and eggs (the latter dyed red from the vegetable's intense pigment). Whether you lean toward old-fashioned recipes like this one or the farm-to-table simplicity of an easy salad of baby greens and beets, use these tips to make the most of the root.

Selecting Beets: When you shop for beets, look for firm, regularly shaped, medium-sized roots and brilliant green tops. Red-and-white striped Chioggia beets (also called candy stripe) have the mildest flavor; red beets will bleed color into cooked dishes, so if that's a concern, opt for less-pigmented varieties like golden beets.

As soon as you bring beets home, cut off the leafy tops a little above the root and store them loosely wrapped in the refrigerator; they should keep for at least a week.

Mess-Free Prep: Beets easily stain cutting boards, hands and any food they're served next to; if you want to avoid a mess on your hands or clothes, wear an apron and kitchen gloves. Save your cutting board from tough stains by giving its surface a light coat of nonstick cooking spray before chopping; the thin coating won't feel slick under your knife and the board will easily wipe clean with a paper towel when you're finished.

Easy Cooking: Roasting is the easiest, most rewarding method for cooking beets since it brings out their sweetness and preserves their beautiful color. If you have small marble- or golf-ball-sized baby beets, steaming can work well, but the process can take 45 minutes or longer with larger specimens. Boiling can lead to loss of flavor and color as their water-soluble pigments leech out into the water. (See recipe on the previous page for an easy roasting method.)

Using Beet Greens: Beet greens are typically thick, fleshy and mild in flavor—chard is a variety of the beet—and taste delicious when slowly braised. Select small-leafed bunches with narrow ribs and bright-green color. Cut the tops off about an inch above the beet and refrigerate the beets and greens separately in plastic bags. Because the tops quickly turn yellow and wilt, cook them within a day or two. Beet greens are a source of protein; folate; fiber; vitamins A, C, E and K; thiamin; riboflavin; vitamin B6; potassium; and manganese—among other nutrients. 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Governor Tom Wolf, Mayor Bill Peduto, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald say the PUC went too far when it fined the ride-sharing company $11.3 million.
The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

Most people crawl deeper under the covers during a nighttime thunderstorm, photographer Dave DiCello does just the opposite.
Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

According to a financial advising site, Pittsburgh is both affordable and a good place to find a job for those fresh out of college.
Harold Hayes' Biggest Retirement Fear, It's Not What You Think

Harold Hayes' Biggest Retirement Fear, It's Not What You Think

Hayes leaves KDKA TV after nearly 37 years with his legacy as one of the city's most respected, fair and accurate reporters – and his priceless sense of humor – firmly intact.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
The Eaglets Have Landed

The Eaglets Have Landed

The bald eagles nesting in Hays once again have given birth to a new generation. We take you into the nest to see how quickly the two chicks are growing.
Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Severino's follow-up to Cure is already winning national accolades.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Governor Tom Wolf, Mayor Bill Peduto, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald say the PUC went too far when it fined the ride-sharing company $11.3 million.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

The much-anticipated Japanese pub from Tamari's Roger Li and Round Corner Cantina's Derek Burnell will serve food and drink deep into the night.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Digital Jukeboxes are Evil, Bar-Ruining Monsters

Digital Jukeboxes are Evil, Bar-Ruining Monsters

The case against TouchTunes, the streaming music loudspeaker that can't stop screwing up the vibe at local bars.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
A By-The-Numbers Draft Has Its Advantages For Steelers This Time

A By-The-Numbers Draft Has Its Advantages For Steelers This Time

For the Steelers, this is a draft that’s long on need but short on intrigue.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Off to the Races

Off to the Races

Want to shade yourself in style at Derby Day and the PNC Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Spring Hat Luncheon? Look no further.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Reviews of "Mother's Day," "Keanu," "Green Room" and local film news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

You don’t always need blue skies and sunshine to have a beautiful and memorable wedding. One couple shares their advice on making the most of a rainy wedding day and what to do when the forecast is less than ideal.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation hosts a one-of-a-kind house tour on May 7.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
STEM Event for Girls Planned at La Roche College

STEM Event for Girls Planned at La Roche College

The Tech Savvy program from the American Association of University Women aims to interest middle school girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Comments