The Fresh Spring Taste of Baby Beets

The Fresh Spring Taste of Baby Beets

By Judy Schultz

As our season of renewal stretches into early summer, we look forward to the first taste of baby beets. Beloved for their robust, earthy flavour, beets are easy to grow, whether round or cylindrical, red or golden, or the beautiful, candy-striped Chioggia. They’re also entirely edible at every stage, from the first tiny thinnings, washed and tossed raw into salads, to the tender, golf-ball sized baby beets that are so tender and naturally sweet. Beets are a forgiving vegetable with a relatively long storage life. Once you have them in the kitchen, clip the tops at about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm). Wash the tops and refrigerate until you need them, up to three days. Beet tops are good in salads or stir fries, and they give an extra edge to a pot of soup. Beet roots can be stored in your fridge for up to two weeks before cooking.

Roasted Beets in Dill Cream

Vegetable markets in Europe have always sold roasted beets. They’re handy for soups, salads or pickles, and once they’re baked, they keep well for three or four days. To roast young beets, clip the tops but do not remove the roots before putting them in the oven, folded snugly in a foil packet. They can be roasted along with any other oven dish, then cooled and refrigerated until you need them.

2 lbs (1 kg) small beets, scrubbed, tops clipped 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) aluminum foil
1 cup (250 mL) sour cream
1/2 cup (125 mL) mayonnaise
1/4 cup (50 mL) fresh chopped dillweed
1/4 cup (50 mL) chopped chives
salt and pepper

Wrap and seal the scrubbed beets in a double thickness of foil and place in a preheated 400 F oven. Oven-roast for about 50 minutes, or until easily pierced with a skewer. Remove from oven and open the foil. When beets are cool enough to handle, slip the skins off and cut in quarters. Fold together the sour cream, mayonnaise, dillweed and chives. Fold beets into the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve cool, as a salad, or heat gently and serve as a side dish. Serves 4 to 6.

Sweet-and-Sour Baby Beets

My grandmother, who grew everything and wasted nothing, cooked baby beets and tops together. This dish was her version of spring tonic, and I remember the delicious smell when she whipped the lid off the casserole. I make my own version, using balsamic vinegar, and mixing red and gold beets if possible.

2 lbs. baby beets, tops clipped, baked in foil
tops from beets, washed
2 green onions, diced
1 tablespoon (15 mL) liquid honey
1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter
2 tablespoons (30 mL) balsamic vinegar
salt, pepper

Slip peeling off cooled beets. Set aside.
Roughly chop beet tops and place in a buttered 10 inch pie plate or shallow casserole. Cut the cooked beets in 1/2 inch thick slices. Distribute red and yellow beets over the greens and sprinkle with diced green onions.In a small cup, melt honey and butter into balsamic vinegar. Drizzle over sliced beets. Season with salt and pepper, and bake, uncovered, at 350 F for about 25 minutes, or until greens are tender. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6

Spring Borscht

On the prairies, there are as many recipes for borscht as there are cooks. I like this one for the clear flavour of the beets, heightened by the acid of tomatoes and the secret ingredient — a fresh lemon, including the peel. Note that the beets are not peeled. Do not substitute bottled lemon juice.

5 or 6 young, medium beets (2 lb/1 kg) with tops
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 small red cabbage, diced
4 cups (2 L) seasoned chicken stock
1 can (19 oz/540 mL) diced tomatoes
1 fresh lemon, well scrubbed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) sugar
fresh dillweed
sour cream (optional)

Thoroughly scrub the beets. Clip tops and coarsely chop the washed leaves. Trim toot ends. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, cut raw, unpeeled beets into thin julienne. Reserve.

Coat a Dutch oven with non-stick spray. Over medium heat, saute diced onion, carrot, celery and cabbage. Add julienned beets and stir-fry about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and tomatoes. Cut the well-washed lemon in four quarters. Squeeze the juice into the soup, and add lemon peel. Turn the heat up and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender. Add the sugar and a hefty amount of freshly chopped dillweed. Fish out the lemon peel and discard it. Taste the soup and correct the seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold, with a dollop of sour cream. Serves 4 to 6.