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Beauty and the Beets

Around the beginning of August, there is a literal red-shift at farmers markets, as brightly colored tomatoes, apples, and beets roll in. The deeply colored fruits and vegetables are beautiful to behold and delicious to eat . . . but that’s not all!

Not Just a Pretty Face

The pigments that delight our eyes with dark greens, brilliant oranges and yellows, and deep reds and purples, also delight the other cells of our body with carotenoids and anthocyanidins–powerful antioxidants that protect against cancer and other chronic diseases. The red and yellow hues in corn, carrots, and tomatoes come from the carotenoids. The jewel-tones of strawberries, cherries, blueberries, red cabbage, and beets come from the anthocyanidins, health-promoting molecules of red, blue, and purple pigments.

A Rainbow of Options

At your local farmers market, you’ll see beets of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Here are a few of the most popular varieties:

Classic Red– Big, beautiful red beets for beet salads, beet soups, and all manner of beet dishes

Forma Nova –This beet has a “new shape,” roughly that of a cylinder, which makes it perfect if you want to make a dish with uniform discs or half-moons.

Golden — This is a mild beet, whose main claim to fame, in restaurants anyway, is that it does not bleed onto the plate.

Chioggia –This heirloom from Chioggia, near Venice is rosy-orange-red on the outside with alternating rings of white and bright pink on the inside when raw. Cooked, the interior is a golden yellow, with a slight blush. It is exceptionally sweet and tender. Avoid overcooking to retain the delicate flavor. Or, try coarsely grating them on top of a salad for an unusual garnish. 

Locally-grown beets almost always come with the tops attached, so you get two vegetables for the price of one. The greens can be cooked as you would spinach or chard, and the Chioggia’s greens are fabulous, with the flavor and texture of fine, young, Swiss chard.

Persian Beets

Ingredients: 

1 1/2 lbs small beets

2 shallots or small onions, sliced or minced

1 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 Tb strong chicken or vegetable stock

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, whole or coarsely chopped

Instructions: 

1. Place the beets in a saucepan; cover with cold unsalted water. Heat slowly to boiling and reduce the heat. Simmer until barely tender, then drain under cold water. Remove the skins.

2. Leave beets whole if they are small, or cut into wedges if they are larger. Pat dry and place in a serving dish. Sprinkle with the shallots or onions.

3. Beat the yogurt and cream in a small bowl. Beat in the stock until smooth, adding salt to taste. Spoon the sauce over the beets and decorate with mint leaves.

This combination of beets, yogurt, cream, and fresh mint is irresistible!

Notes: 
Serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main course.