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All about beets

Roasted beets, beet and goat cheese timbale, and beet greens

Beet and goat cheese timbale (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Beet and goat cheese timbale (Photo by Jessica Grann)

I love to eat beets, but I used to hate to prepare them. I didn’t learn until a few years ago how to make them easily and without juice staining my hands and everything else in sight.

Beets offer so many health benefits — and a bonus is that you can also cook the greens. I love when there is little waste and I can use as much of my produce as possible.

I’ve been getting the most beautiful golden (sometimes called yellow) and red beets lately at the Squirrel Hill farmers market that is open every Sunday morning in my neighborhood, so I thought that this would be a perfect time to share these recipes.

I like beets mixed in with green salad, in their own Moroccan-style salad, as a warm side dish on my dinner plate, or — my absolute favorite — served with goat cheese. There are also fantastic soup recipes that call for beets, like borscht and kubbeh soup. You can use my tips to roast the beets and add them to your soup base as needed.

A bunch of beets usually consists of 4 or 5 whole pieces, but you can make 2 or 20 with the same ease of preparation.

Roasted beets with goat cheese chunks (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Roasted beets
Fill a large pot or bowl with water. Cut the stems of the greens from each beet, leaving 2-3 inches of stem attached to the bulb.

Set the greens aside for later; don’t throw them away even if you’re not able to cook them the same day.

Place the beets in the water to soak for a few minutes. If you don’t have a produce-cleaning scrub brush, then I recommend buying one. Scrub the beets clean and trim any long roots from the bottom with kitchen shears, then set them to dry on paper towels; you will cook the beets with the skin on.

Set the oven to 425 F.

The beets will be roasted in foil packets. Cut a 12-inch-wide piece of foil and place the beets into the center of the foil sheet. Pull the corners up to the center and press the edges together to create a seal. Leave as much space as possible between the beets and the top of the foil to create a steam tent. You can fit 4-5 beets per foil packet.

If you’re cooking both red and golden beets, be sure to wash and prepare them separately to avoid ruining the color of the golden beets, which are exceptionally pretty when cooked.

Place the foil packet(s) on a sheet pan with edges to avoid any oven spills, then bake them on the middle rack for 45 minutes to one hour. The timing depends on the size of the bulbs — small to medium beets cook in less time, but I’ve never had large beets take longer than 1 hour.

When they reach the correct consistency (fork-tender but firm), remove the tray from the oven and carefully open the foil packets to release the steam. Let them rest for 10 minutes before placing them in a bowl of cold water. This does not need to be a full ice bath immersion, but you could add a few ice cubes to the water if your tap water is on the warmer side. Let the beets cool completely in the water, which can take up to half an hour.

Once they are cool, place the bowl in the sink under running water and peel the skin from the beets while they are fully immersed. This is the game-changer: The skin peels off like magic and the extra juice runs down the drain without staining your hands. Even if you notice beet juice on your fingers, it should wash away under running tap water.

As you peel the beets you can put them back into the bowl of water to rest. If you are cooking both golden and red beets, make a separate water bath for each color.

Once you’ve peeled all of the beets, use a slotted spoon to set them on a tray with a paper towel to dry.

Pour the colored water down the drain and rinse your sink immediately, especially if your sink is made from porcelain. Discard the skins.

You can make these beets several days before you need them. Store them in an airtight container to keep them fresh. You can cube or slice the beets as you prefer.

Sometimes I make a Moroccan-style salad with cubed beets, chopped parsley or cilantro, and dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice and a little salt. My husband likes cumin added to this salad. Otherwise, I like to slice the beets chilled and add them to green salads or cut them in wedges and serve them on their own as a warm side dish. Beets have a beautiful flavor and don’t need much added to them — just let the natural flavors shine.

You can sprinkle goat cheese chunks on your green salad and dress it with a simple dressing of your choice, like a French vinaigrette.

Beet and goat cheese timbale

Use one large beet and 4 ounces of goat cheese per timbale. The cheese will spread more easily if you take it from the fridge and set it on the counter about 20 minutes before preparation.

Take a 12-inch long piece of plastic wrap and center it over a small bowl or ramekin, pressing it down into the bowl.

Slice the beets in half-inch-wide pieces and save the ends for another dish. You will make four cuts in total. The very ends can be a sliver of a slice — just enough to square off the ends and allow the timbale to stand without rolling over. Be sure that the three internal pieces which you will be using are each about a half-inch wide and as evenly sized as possible. You will use three slices of beet per timbale. Place the widest one in the center; the two others will make up the outside edges.

Place one of the outside pieces into the bowl on the plastic wrap, then spread 2 ounces of goat cheese over the beet. Do not worry about making it perfect — just spread it as evenly as possible before adding the widest piece of beet over the cheese.

Spread the remaining 2 ounces of cheese over the center beet layer and add the third layer of beet.

Close the plastic wrap as tightly as possible and refrigerate for one hour before serving.

Open the plastic and cut the timbale in half lengthwise so that you have a beautiful slice of layered beetroot and goat cheese.

You can serve this as its own salad on a plate with a drizzle of olive oil and a little bit of salt and freshly ground pepper, but it also looks beautiful added to a salad of baby greens and dressed with your favorite vinaigrette.

Each timbale makes two generous servings.

Beet greens
About those greens that you reserved: Soak them in a pot of water and a splash of white vinegar to clean off any sand, dirt or bugs. The stems take longer to cook, so remove those from the leafy green and cut them into inch-wide pieces.

Sauté over medium-low heat in a little olive oil for 5 minutes, just as you would cook fresh spinach. I usually hand tear the leafy greens while the stems are cooking and then add them to the stems to reduce for a few minutes.

Once the leaves are wilted, you can add a clove of fresh garlic and allow them to cook for a minute or so. You can also add more olive oil, cumin or a splash of red wine vinegar to get a different flavor profile and serve as a side dish.

I hope that my tips help you to enjoy beets more often at home. Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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