Key Ingredient


Ingredient of the week

Key ingredient: baby beets

Beets are standard fare at salad bars and buffet lines. Yet many who enjoy this sweet vegetable are accustomed only to the canned variety. What a shame.

Once you've tasted fresh beets roasted to perfection in their jackets, you're unlikely to go back to canned. They some effort to prepare, but are sure to please.

The basics: Beets are a root vegetable like carrots and were once prized for their leafy greens rather than their sweet root. The standard red or garden variety is now joined by an array of other colorful siblings -- golden yellow, orange, pink, white and candy-cane or Chioggia beets, to name a few.

Beets also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from turnip-shape to elongated and petite baby beets, to mature orange-sized beets. One giant variety is the all-important sugar beet, the major source of commercial sugar besides sugar cane.

Beets are packed with nutrients and a good source of fiber.

Selecting: Choose beets that are firm, with smooth skins. If leaves are attached, make sure they look fresh and not wilted. Watch for dried out or cracked roots and soft spots.

Storing: If leafy greens are attached, they should be removed, leaving about an inch of stems attached to the root. The roots and greens can then be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator. Beet roots may be keep for a couple of weeks.

Use: Beets are used in everything from salads to soups. Wash gently so as not to pierce the skin. Fresh beets should always be cooked with their skin on and removed after cooking. They can be steamed, boiled, roasted or even microwaved.

Remember that the color will bleed out, so cook different varieties separately. The red coloring will also stain surfaces or clothing, so work with cooked beets carefully.

Beets can also be grated raw into salads or cut into spirals and used as garnish. Borscht (beet soup) and pickled beets are traditional. Roasted potatoes, beets and other root vegetables make a hearty side dish while colorful whole baby beets served with a light vinaigrette makes for a refreshing summer salad.

Where to buy: Beets can be found year-round at most markets. Summer is the best time of year and is generally when most varieties can be found. Fresh beets are priced at $1.99 to $2.99 a pound.

Food Stuffs: Morsels

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga is
a free-lance food writer. Contact her
online through

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