The First Lady may be banishing beets from the White House garden, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us should pluck them from our diets.
Beets are a fat-free ‘super-food’ loaded with phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium and vitamins A and C, niacin, biotin, fiber and folic acid for the production and maintenance of new cells. High in carbohydrates, beets give a burst of energy without packing on calories.
As well, beets and their juices detoxify the blood and colon, and contain betaine that protects the liver and bile ducts and strengthens the gall bladder. Hungarian researchers have found that beet therapy slows and even retards cancerous tumor growth, and has also been used for patients with blood diseases. Some homeopaths use beet diffusions for ridding the body of boils, abscesses and even acne.
The bulbous beauty as we know it today evolved from a wild, skinny-rooted plant that sprung up along the coastal regions of the Mediterranean Sea during prehistoric times. The ancient beet leaves were eaten by the Roman Gladiators and nonwarriors to ward off fever and the Greeks to “cool” the blood. Hippocrates recommended beet leaves as a binding for healing wounds, and were also chewed as a natural breath freshener.
Early Russian homeopaths recognized the miraculous health benefits of the beet as a cure for tuberculosis, scurvy and toothaches, while high society ladies used beet juice as the original cheek blush.
Centuries later, when the beetroot grew plumper and more succulent, it then became appreciated for its epicurean attributes. This plant was suddenly chic under Charlemagne’s empire, and every reputed French garden was abound with rows of red-veined leaves below which grew the luscious root.The beet journeyed northward to Germany, where it was called the “Roman Beet,” then crossed the English Channel and finally found a home in the fertile crescents of the New World.Beets are perennially plentiful from cans conveniently cleaned, cooked, sliced and ready to eat or can be bought fresh and boiled or roasted whole, sauteed or shredded raw in salads, or juiced and drunk straight up or mixed with less potent juices as a liver cleanse. My Russian granny made refreshing cold beet borscht in the summer with a dollop of chilled sour cream, and steaming hot in the winter with boiled potatoes as a great comfort food.Here are some beet growing and culinary tips:
- Beets require 60 to 70 days from planting to harvest, and grow best in loose, moist soil and cool temperatures.
- Along with the standard red-rooted varieties are candy-striped and golden species, lacking the pigment betacyanin that gives the rubies their cancer-fighting power.
- Buy small- to medium-size beets with a dry and taut exterior.
- Scrub and rinse the beets to remove any dirt. Store in the refrigerator crisper for up to one week.
When slicing raw beets, wear impermeable gloves unless you want to look as if you’re going to an audition for a Neutrogena hand lotion commercial (the before, not after hands).
My final contribution is a springlike roasted beet salad prepared by Chef Megan Reichman at Baleen Restaurant in Mission Beach. It is dessert-delicious and unbeatable!Baleen’s Roasted Beet Salad2 medium red beets1 cup of macheDressing1/4 cup blood orange puree2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar1 teaspoon whole grain mustard2 teaspoons honey1/2 shallot1 cup grapeseed oilSalt and pepper to tasteMarinade1/4 cup roasted beet scraps1/2 shallot3 teaspoons whole grain mustard3 teaspoons honey1/4 cup red wine vinegar1 cup of grapeseed oilSalt and pepper to tasteToasted pine nutsIn a covered pan with water, roast the beets at 350 degrees F. until soft but firm. Peel and dice, reserving ¼ cup for the marinade. Puree the marinade ingredients in a blender, adding a stream of oil to emulsify. Repeat the procedure for the dressing. On a salad plate, layer the beets and the marinade, and top with the mache tossed in dressing. Sprinkle with pine nuts.