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

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

With so many options in and around the city, every couple can find the special space that feels just right — whether they’re looking for nature, rustic charm, fairytale romance, stained-glass beauty, treasured religious ritual or classic tradition.
Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Delve below the surface to explore the underground areas that serve as vital pathways to our region.
Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Chefs who grew up in Pittsburgh are shaping the culinary scene in other cities across the country — and gaining national recognition in the process.
Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

The meat-centric restaurant in the Strip District is helping to redefine Pittsburgh's dining expectations.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

See How Pittsburghers Used to Get Around

See How Pittsburghers Used to Get Around

This rare video gives you a passenger's perspective of street car trolley travel in the 1960s.
Steelers' DeAngelo Williams Scores as Daughters' Hair Stylist

Steelers' DeAngelo Williams Scores as Daughters' Hair Stylist

In a pair of TV ads, watch the Steelers' running back tackle styling the hair of his two adorable daughters.
Greenlight for Girls Encourages Hands-On STEM Learning

Greenlight for Girls Encourages Hands-On STEM Learning

The international organization partnered with local materials science company Covestro to encourage scientific curiosity for girls.
Heinz Releases a ‘Wiener Stampede’ on The Super Bowl

Heinz Releases a ‘Wiener Stampede’ on The Super Bowl

Dozens of dachshunds wearing hot dog costumes star in what may be the cutest commercial this year.

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

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

With so many options in and around the city, every couple can find the special space that feels just right — whether they’re looking for nature, rustic charm, fairytale romance, stained-glass beauty, treasured religious ritual or classic tradition.
Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Delve below the surface to explore the underground areas that serve as vital pathways to our region.
Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Chefs who grew up in Pittsburgh are shaping the culinary scene in other cities across the country — and gaining national recognition in the process.
Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

The meat-centric restaurant in the Strip District is helping to redefine Pittsburgh's dining expectations.
Cranking Out Old School Valentines Sealed with a Quirk

Cranking Out Old School Valentines Sealed with a Quirk

In Lawrenceville, a love for letterpress leads to a business whose greeting cards reach audiences across the country.
Pittsburgh's Third Renaissance and Complaints from 2007

Pittsburgh's Third Renaissance and Complaints from 2007

This third Renaissance has allowed us to be spectators as Pittsburgh changed from a city suffering the damages wrought by the collapse of its steel industry to a vibrant, active place known for its academic, medical and technology sectors.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


See How Pittsburghers Used to Get Around

See How Pittsburghers Used to Get Around

This rare video gives you a passenger's perspective of street car trolley travel in the 1960s.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: Yikes! Imagine This Instead of a Fountain at the Point

PittGirl: Yikes! Imagine This Instead of a Fountain at the Point

City leaders considered many options for Pittsburgh's confluence including something that looked like it was designed by the Jetsons, or an absolutely bonkers, batpoop insane idea by the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Wigle Whiskey Ripe for Expansion with Threadbare

Wigle Whiskey Ripe for Expansion with Threadbare

The Strip District distillers will launch a hard cider business this fall.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
7 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

7 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

Easy access from universities, wallet-friendly prices and really good food make these our favorite choices for the university set.

Comments


Head to 'Quick and Shameless' For an Unpredictable (and Essential) Night of Pittsburgh Comedy

Head to 'Quick and Shameless' For an Unpredictable (and Essential) Night of Pittsburgh Comedy

The LGBTQ-friendly variety show offers one of the city's most unusual (and often unforgettable) lineups of comedic talent.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
It's Simple This Time, Super Bowl 50 Won't Even be Close

It's Simple This Time, Super Bowl 50 Won't Even be Close

The Panthers are going to get to the Broncos eventually. When that happens, Peyton Manning is going to be forced to throw it. And once that happens, it’s going to get ugly.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Delicate Pieces for the Harsh Winter

Delicate Pieces for the Harsh Winter

Lighten up your look with a cheerful necklace.

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.
George Clooney, Jane Austen, Nicholas Sparks and Some Zombies Walk Into a Multiplex

George Clooney, Jane Austen, Nicholas Sparks and Some Zombies Walk Into a Multiplex

Our reviews of "Hail, Caesar!," "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and "The Choice."

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Sugar and Spice: Cookie Table Contest Winners

Sugar and Spice: Cookie Table Contest Winners

Pittsburgh has it all: a beautiful skyline, breathtaking bridges and the most gorgeous cookie tables we’ve ever seen.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Pillow Talk: Pittsburgh's Skyline Inspires New Design Line

Pillow Talk: Pittsburgh's Skyline Inspires New Design Line

Check out the new pillow collection from local interior designer Zach Mitchell. Plus, get the scoop on The Pittsburgh Christmas Carol Tour.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Mock Crime Scene to be Held at Waynesburg University

Mock Crime Scene to be Held at Waynesburg University

The event is for high school students who are interested in criminal justice, law enforcement and forensic science.

Comments