WITH LIBERTY, JUSTICE, & BEETS FOR ALL
When you think of eating beets, what comes to mind? My guess is you have strong feelings. Maybe you had a negative childhood experience in which an aunt forced them down your gullet (What were those freakishly-iridescent, canned things that tasted of dirt?). Maybe the pungent smell of pickled beets turned you off long ago, or perhaps your first bite was of a mushy boiled beet (thanks, school cafeteria lady…). From the beginning of his administration, President Obama practiced beet partisanship when he famously banned beets from the White House garden. First it was broccoli with the Bushes, then beet bashing with the Obamas. What is the world coming to??
Beets were first cultivated solely for their greens in Northern Africa before Northeastern Europeans began eating the actual root in the 1700s. Originally utilized for medicinal purposes, the root became a dietary staple because it was one of the only vegetables that grew throughout the winter. But the 1900s brought about an era of canned foods, and consequently the birth of beet hatin’ generations of Americans.
DROP THE BEET MISCONCEPTIONS
1. They taste like dirt
Beets contain a compound called geosmin that gives them their distinctive “earthy” flavor, so while beets do need thorough washing to get the dirt off, it’s not actual dirt you taste. Some beet breeds contain less geosmin, letting the natural sweetness stand out more than the earthiness.
2. I don’t like them. Period.
It can take 10 or more tastes of a novel food to begin accepting a new flavor profile, so try to remain open to trying them several times. Tangy flavors pair well with beets, so crumble goat cheese atop a roasted beet salad and dig in! (Yogurt, feta, and blue cheeses are nice complements, too.)
3. They stain everything.
You’re right— no misconception here: the pigments will stain pretty much anything they come in contact with. In fact, women in the 1900s used to stain their lips and cheeks with beet juice (which is where the old adage about turning “red as a beet” originated). The ruby red color comes from plant pigments called betalains, which act as powerful antioxidants believed to prevent cancer. (Side note: the pigments can also give your urine and feces a reddish tint, so try not to be alarmed after eating them!)
Thankfully, after many decades, beets have made a come back and are very much now in vogue, especially in the culinary world. Practically every restaurant menu now features some dish that includes the beetroot, and for good reason— their versatility lends many delicious applications. What’s more, the entire plant can be used, from the root end of the beet to the tips of their leafy greens.
Tender baby beet greens are often enjoyed in salads; while mature greens can be quickly sautéed with olive oil and a little garlic (much like chard or spinach) for a savory side. The root is delicious when sliced thinly and baked into chips, shaved raw and tossed with quality olive oil, grated into a salad, sautéed, grilled or, my favorite: roasted.
Beets are nutritional powerhouses. The greens are a great source of vitamin A, calcium, fiber, and folate, while the root is high in vitamin C, potassium, and iron.
DID YOU KNOW:
- Andreas Sigismund Marggraf, a Berlin chemist, discovered sucrose can be extracted from beets, around 20% of the world’s sugar comes from sugar beets.
- Beets are a natural diuretic, thanks to their high potassium content which helps you excrete sodium (buh-bye bloat!).
- The substances tryptophan and betaine in beets promote feelings of well-being
- Beetroot juice has been considered an aphrodisiac since Roman times. It contains high levels of boron, a trace mineral used in the production of sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone).
- The pink lemonade colorant comes from beet pigments.
Unless you’re a hard-core veggie enthusiast, you probably aren’t getting the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables per day. In fact, the CDC reports that fewer than 14% of Americans regularly meet the mark. One easy way to increase your intake of veggies is to fill one-half your plate at each meal with veggies and leafy greens. Another strategy? Be a part-time vegetarian: try having one plant-based meal a day.
A good starting point is this Black Bean & Beet Veggie Burger. It’s as satisfying as its beef counterpoint (rigorous tests and approvals have been conducted on many a carnivore), is pleasantly spicy, and —here’s the kicker — doesn't even taste like beets! Leftovers make a great lunch the next day and can be served on a bun or over a bed of leafy greens.
BLACK BEAN & BEET VEGGIE BURGER
- 1 pound can black beans, drained and rinsed
- ½ cup chopped onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 cup roasted beet
- 1 cup roasted sweet potato
- 2 teaspoons + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon each (4 total): sriracha, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, mustard
- 1 teaspoon each (4 total): smoked paprika, cumin, chili powder, onion powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ cups oatmeal
- ¾ cup panko bread crumbs
- ½ cup quinoa, brown rice, or any whole grain
- Sauté onion in pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add minced garlic and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
- Pulse roasted beet and sweet potato in food processor with black beans just until combined (i.e. still chunky; not pureed).
- Add in 2 teaspoons olive oil, garlic and onion, sauces, spices, and salt and pulse until incorporated.
- Transfer mixture from processor into large bowl to stir in oats, panko, and quinoa. Shape mixture into 3” patties (about ½“ thick).
- Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add patties to pan and reduce heat to medium; cook 4 minutes (or until bottom edges are browned). Carefully turn patties over; cook 3 minutes (or until bottom edges are done).
TURN THE BEET AROUND
No matter the case for your tenuous relationship with these root veggies, it’s time to drop the beet bias, and give ‘em a fair chance (you, too, Mr. President). On America’s 240th birthday, we owe it to our health and our country to put beets back on the agenda. Here’s to beet acceptance for all — Happy Independence Day, ‘Merica!