Beets are a beautiful thing. Equally as beautiful when harvested from the nutrient soil as they are when they are roasted and sliced down the middle to be served on your plate. They are beautiful not just in their appearance, but in how they taste and their impressive nutritional benefits in a low-calorie package.
While beets can be peeled, sliced very thin or shredded to be eaten raw as a crunchy topping on a salad, they are even more wonderful when roasted to bring out their natural sweetness. Beets are also great sliced thin and fried into crunchy beet chips as an alternative to potato chips.
Beets feel like a winter vegetable to me, but they are actually available all year long. When pairing with other vegetables or fruit that is in season, it makes the beets fit right in no matter what time of year it is. Citrus and beets go so well together in early spring; mix with avocados, raspberries, mint in summer; with pears and figs in fall. And at any time of year your favorite cheeses and nuts add a contrasting texture.
A Few Things to Know About Beets
- Beets will bleed and can stain whatever they come into contact with, including lighter colored beets that you might also be cooking or storing them with.
- Beets are roots and grown in soil that can be sandy and messy. Be sure to thoroughly rinse both the beets and the greens before placing them on the cutting board to keep sand away from the final product.
- Don’t waste the greens. Sauté them (see below) or use in a salad within 1 to 2 days of bringing them home.
- Beets are very nutritious; contain antioxidants, iron, vitamins C and B6, among others; and can help with digestion.
- Learn more about beets from Specialty Produce.
How to Buy Beets
Try to buy beets with the stems attached whenever possible. The stems will tell you how fresh the beets are. If the greens are wilted or brown, the beets probably aren’t super fresh. Fresh beets will feel firm and heavy for their size. Try to buy similar-sized beets so they cook at the same rate.
You can (and totally should) use the greens to sauté for something super nutritious.
Varieties of Beets
There is quite a variety when it comes to types of beets and their sizes.
Red Beets: These are the most popular and readily available variety of beets. They have the deep red color that we usually associate with a beet. Red beets get very tender when cooked, resulting in subtly sweet, earthy flavors.
Gold (Golden) Beets: A deep goldish/yellow beet has a slightly more mild flavor than the red beets.
Chioggia Beets: Very bright pink and white striped inside when cut. These are a stunner for presentation and are great for slicing very thin and serving raw. They can also be called candy cane or candy stripe beets.
Baby Beets: Most types of beets are available in baby sizes, which are ideal for one- or two-bite applications. They are really just the baby version harvested young. I will often thinly slice and serve these raw as there is a lot more labor involved when cooking them vs. larger beets.
Learn more beet facts from Specialty Produce.
How to Store Beets
Bring the beets home and cut off the leaves (leaving at least 1/4″ of the stem attached). Use the beet leaves within 1 to 2 days and store the roots in the crisper drawer for 2 to 3 weeks. If you leave the greens attached, the beets will only last 1 week in the refrigerator.
Storing Cooked Beets: Store cooked beets in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. If you need to store them for longer, either vacuum seal them or place in a resealable freezer bag with the air removed and place in the freezer to use within 1 year.
Tip: For aesthetic reasons, store different colored cooked beets separately to keep the colors from blending together.
Different Ways to Cook Beets
Roasting (the subject of this recipe post): The best way to get the most flavor out of beets. Aromatics like fresh thyme, shallots, garlic and even vinegar can be added to the roasting pan or to enhance the cooked flavors of the beets.
Steaming: This method is the fastest and cleanest method for cooking beets. I will often steam beets in the summer when I don’t want to turn the oven on.
Boiling: This causes them to lose lots of their color and nutrients into the water, which is why it is my least favorite method for cooking beets.
Top Tips for Roasting Beets
- Don’t peel the beets before roasting them to preserve their vibrant color and nutrients. They are easily peeled after cooking.
- Use gloves if you don’t want to temporarily stain your hands.
- Use a black cutting board or a plastic cutting board when working with beets, again to avoid staining.
- Cook more than you need. They are even better the next day or freeze the extra to use later.
How Long to Roast Beets
Depending on the size, beets will take between 45 minutes and 1 1/2 hours to fully cook at 400° F.
Step by Step: How to Roast Beets
- Preheat oven to 400° F with the rack in the middle.
- Prep the beets by cutting off the greens leaving 1/4″ of the stem in place. Wash and scrub the beets to remove any dirt and sand.
- Place the beets in a roasting pan and toss with olive oil, kosher salt, pepper and aromatics. Then add about 1/2″ of water to the bottom of pan.
- Cover with aluminum foil and roast until the beets are slightly soft and tender (45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours).
- Uncover and transfer to a cutting board to cool enough to handle.
- Slice off the ends and peel with a paper towel; by rubbing, the skin easily comes off.
How to Cook Up Those Amazing Beet Greens
Please don’t discard those fresh beet greens. They are very similar to Swiss chard and are super nutritious. They only last for a day or two once you bring them home, so rinse, dry and simply sauté them in a skillet for a delicious fresh green veggie side.
- Rinse (they can be sandy) and spin dry or use a towel just like with other salad greens. Chop coarsely.
- Heat a skillet with enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add the greens with some thinly sliced garlic and shallot.
- Use tongs to toss the greens with the oil and sauté until wilted and tender, about 5 minutes.
Sautéed beet greens are wonderful with salmon.
Uses and Recipes for Cooked Beets
- Simply sprinkle some coarse salt and a drizzle of good quality olive oil over the top and enjoy.
- Warm roasted beet salad with goat cheese, bacon and microgreens.
- Citrus, beet and avocado salad.
- Beet poke: Dice cooked red beets and marinate with poke sauce for an amazing vegan poke that has a very similar texture to ahi tuna.
- Seared swordfish with golden beet-parsnip purée.
- Add roasted beets to a baby arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette
- Blend into hummus for a vibrant appetizer.
- Pickle the roasted beets with vinegar, sugar and salt.
- You can strain and save the pan juices and add to risotto, rice or mashed potatoes for a stunning bright purple color.
- Beet soup: Make a quick velvety smooth soup in a blender.
- 4 to 8 beets (similar sized assorted colors such as red, gold and chioggia)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 kosher salt (about 1 Tbsp.)
- Coarse ground pepper
- Preheat oven to 400° F with the rack in the middle.
- Prep the beets by cutting off the greens leaving 1/4" of the stem in place. Wash and scrub the beets to remove any dirt and sand.
- In a 13×9" or similar roasting pan, toss the beets with the olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper to evenly coat.
- Add about 1/2" water to the pan being careful not to wash the seasoning off the beets.
- Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and roast until the beets are slightly soft and tender (45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours depending on the size of your beets). Start checking for doneness by piercing with a fork after 40 minutes.
- Uncover and transfer the cooked beets to a board or plate. Let cool long enough so you can handle with your hands.
- Slice off the tops and bottoms of the beets to make for easy peeling. Peel by rubbing with a paper towel and wear gloves if you don't want your hands to change color.
- Slice or dice and enjoy.
- Different size beets cook at different times.
- Peel and chop the lighter colored beets first to avoid coloring with the darker beets.
- Cover and store cooked beets in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Vacuum seal and freeze if you need to store for longer.