Somerset—Red beets are a common crop at many community farmers' markets and roadside farm markets across Pennsylvania through the growing season. But they are uncommonly sweet and good sources of both folacin and vitamin C. In addition, the tops or leaves are excellent sources of beta carotene, calcium and iron.
According to the Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition (University of California at Berkeley), beets and their cousins sugar beets, mangel-wurzels, foliage beets and Swiss chard, are descended from a wild slender-rooted plant native to the sandy seacoast soils of southern Europe.
Originally, only the tops or leaves were eaten, which is still the case for foliage beets and Swiss chard. Beets with the globe-shaped roots which we know today were apparently developed in the 1500s but were not commonly eaten until the eighteenth century. While most beets have a deep red flesh, hence the term "red beets," certain specialty varieties with golden or white flesh are available.
Young tender beets bunched together with the tops often available early in the season. In general small- or medium-sized beets will be more tender than larger beets. While recipes have varying directions for cooking beets, in general beets are best cooked whole to prevent bleeding of the color and nutrients while cooking. Cut the tops off about 1 inch above the beet and do not trim the root.
Any soil should be gently scrubbed off the beets without breaking the skin. After cooking so the beets are tender (easly pierced with a knife), the beets skins are easily pealed off when the beets have cooled slightly.
Following are some tasty beet recipes from the 2011 Pennsylvania Vegetable Recipe Contest.
Roasted Beet and Candied Walnut Salad
3 medium beets, leaves and stems removed
2 ounces walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup Greek salad dressing
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
3 tablespoons dried cranberries
3 green onions, sliced
2 cups mesclun mix or baby spinach
1/4 cup Roquefort cheese,crumbled