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Beets may be one of the most underrated vegetables in the garden. Most people describe this root vegetable’s flavor as earthy, with the perfect amount of sweetness. It is one of the few vegetables that is edible in its entirety, from the crispy, green leaves at its top to its long, pointed root. Although you can cut beets into thin slices and eat them raw, there are a variety of ways to cook them to enhance the vegetable’s rich flavors.

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Choosing Beets

Look for medium-sized beets with the leaves still attached. Larger beets tend to be tougher. If the leaves have been removed, make sure there is at least ½ inch of the stem remaining and 2 inches of the taproot. The beet’s skin should be smooth and hard. Avoid those with cuts, bruises, moist spots, or flabby or shriveled skin. The leaves should be dark green, small, and crisp. Choose equal-sized beets so that they cook evenly.

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Types of Beets

Most people are familiar with the red beets available in grocery stores. However, other types of beets are equally delicious. White beets are similar to turnips but are less sweet than red beets. Choose golden beets for a milder flavor. Unlike red ones, the golden version won’t bleed. The Italian Chioggia beets have a red-and-white striped flesh that resembles a candy cane. This is the sweetest variety of beet. In the early summer, look for baby beets. Many people consider these radish-sized beets to be a delicacy.

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Boiling Beets

Recipes calling for lighter beet flavors are great for boiled beets. When boiling, it is best to use a whole beat rather than a sliced one. This locks the color and juices of the beet inside. Cut off the greens to 1 inch. This prevents the color from bleeding into the water. Then, cut off the tail root. Place the beets in a Dutch oven and cover with water. Add salt to the water if desired. Bring the beets and the water to a boil and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the beets and place in a bowl of cold water. With a paper towel, pick up the beet using both hands. Firmly hold the beet, then twist your hands in opposite directions. The beet’s skin should slide off.

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Steaming Beets

If you wish to preserve the beautiful, rich color of beets, steam them. After thoroughly washing the beets, trim off the beet greens and refrigerate them for later use. Remove the root on the bottom of each beet. Scrub the skins to remove any dirt. Cut each beet into quarters and place into a steamer over a pot of boiling water for about 15 minutes. Check with a fork to ensure that they are tender. Remove the beets from the steamer and cool so that you can safely handle them. Peel the beets, slice, and serve.

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Roast the Beets

Roasting brings out the sweet richness of this versatile vegetable. Beets have a high sugar content and roasting them concentrates the sugars and creates more robust flavors. To prepare, wash the beets well. Remove the tops and roots and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces. Place the beets on a double-thickness of foil and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper or other seasonings. Fold the foil around the beets, making sure to tightly seal the beets. Place the foil-covered beet packets on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes at 400 degrees. After removing the beets from the oven, carefully open the foil and allow the built-up steam to escape from the packets. Slice the beets or serve them whole.

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Preparing Beets in a Slow Cooker

Tender and smooth, slow-cooked beets offer a sweet, fresh flavor. Wash, but don’t peel the beets. If you leave the tops and bottoms intact, they’ll be easier to peel later. Place the beets on a piece of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. For a more robust flavor, add slices of garlic and your choice of herbs, such as rosemary and thyme. Wrap the foil around the beets forming a packet. Place in the slow cooker for about 7 to 8 hours on low or 3 to 4 hours on high. Remove the beets and allow them to cool. Rub off the skins, slice, and serve.

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Pickled Beets

Add some vinegar and a few well-chosen spices to make pickled beets. Add to sandwiches, a relish tray, or fruit or vegetable salads. To pickle beets, clean them well and trim the tops to about one inch. Don’t peel the beets. Cover the beets with water in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer with the cover on for about 25 to 30 minutes. The beets should be tender at this point. Remove from the water and cool. Peel the beets. Slice and set aside. In a saucepan, combine one cup of vinegar, ½ cup of sugar, 1 ½ teaspoon of whole cloves, 1 ½ teaspoon of whole allspice, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Boil the mixture for 5 minutes. Pour over the beets and refrigerate them for 1 hour. Drain before serving.

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Keep Your Beet Greens

Don’t toss the leafy green tops of the beetroot. They provide large amounts of folate and minerals, like calcium and iron. A cup of beet green tops also offers beta carotene, an antioxidant that aids in eye health and cognitive function. They also help the body fight off free radicals which medical researchers have linked to cancer. You can serve beet greens as a side dish or mix them with pasta. Prepare them as you would any other green. Chop washed stems into 1/2-inch pieces and tear the leaves into large bite-sized pieces. Saute the stems in olive oil, then add the leaves and cook until they become wilted. Season with salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and a splash of white wine.

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Beet Stains

Preparing beets can be a messy job. The red variety of beets can leave pinkish-red stains on anything they touch. Protect countertops by covering them in wax paper or plastic wrap before your preparations. Wear gloves if you have them to prevent your hands from getting stained. However, if they do, cut a lemon in half. Squeeze lemon juice onto your hands and rub the juice between them. Rinse off your hands. Repeat this process until the stain is gone. If that doesn’t work, try soaking your hands in a bowl of lemon juice for one to two minutes. Dry your hands, then add a half-dime-size of salt into your palms. Rub your hands together again, spreading the salt across the stained areas. Rinse with warm water.

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Health Benefits of Beets

An entire cup of beets is rich in antioxidants, yet only has 58 calories. They are a great source of potassium, sodium, iron, folate, phosphorus, and vitamin C. Beets provide a healthy dose of B vitamins, like riboflavin, niacin, and thiamin. Studies show that beets not only increase endurance and stamina, but their nitrate content also improves brain neuroplasticity. The high levels of magnesium and potassium in beets help prevent bloating by flushing out the body’s excess water. For this reason, many people eat beets as part of a detoxifying diet.

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