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Health September 2012

Eat Right Now

Beet Yourself Up, Please

By Wendell Fowler

Beets can be roasted, steamed, boiled, sautéed, or eaten raw (grated) and will make lifelong friends immediately. It beats me why beets bleed, but, please, do get caught red‑handed with them and their nutritious green leaves.

My wife Sandi tells me she's still cleaning up purple, pink and red polka dots off the floor and walls after a recent dinner party which involved a certain red root vegetable, dear friends, and a two year old who had never seen beets.

The rich, magenta-colored balls captivated the tyke who reached out for the steaming bowl as four shrieking, horror‑struck adults simultaneously leaped to avert the inevitable tragedy in red. Startled, the child flailed her hands in excitement, struck the serving bowl, sending jets of molten, scarlet liquid globules onto the ceiling, walls, chandelier, grandma’s filigree tablecloth, the carpet, our guests, and the bewildered dog. Convulsive laughter ensued as everyone agreed we resembled the waiting room at a measles clinic.

Do not, however, throw the beets out with the baby water. Since prehistoric times, the sweet beet has been sought as medicine, food, and livestock fodder.

Near the sandy shores of the Mediterranean, the crunchy, earthy, beet – Beta vulgaris dates back to prehistoric times where beets were grown for the medicinal quality of their tops, related to chard, spinach, and quinoa. As Charlemagne was leaving his mark on the French empire, the beet was becoming embraced. During the 16th century, the beet traveled from France to Germany where it was known as "Roman Beet." Reminiscent of the Romans, the beet went on and crossed the English Channel. From there the Technicolor orb landed on grateful Thanksgiving tables throughout the New World. The beet appeared in the midwestern USA in unison with the migrating German‑Russians. The first sugar beet factory appeared in North American in California in 1869.

 

Improve Your Health a Little Beet

Beetroots brim with folate, potassium and manganese, plus colon‑cleansing fiber, ala roto‑rooter. They also contain calcium, iron, beta carotene, sulfur, iodine, copper, carbohydrates, protein, vitamin P, and vitamins B1, B2, B6, niacin and anti‑cancer agents. The phytonutrients in low- calorie beets help rid the body of those naughty fatty deposits, plus maintain whole-body health even though they have high sugar content. Be sure to cook the tops which are packed with calcium, iron, beta‑carotene and even more anti‑cancer compounds. The greens contain oxalic acid which may inhibit our body from absorbing calcium and iron, so don't go nuts. Oxalic acid can be toxic in high doses.

Beets can be roasted, steamed, boiled, sautéed, or eaten raw (grated) and will make lifelong friends immediately. It beats me why beets bleed, but, please, do get caught red‑handed with them and their nutritious green leaves.

A little kitchen savvy goes a long way. Beets are famous for blushing or bleeding. To reduce bleeding and preserve more of the sweet flavor and valuable nutrients, cut the beet tops off, leaving at least 1" of stems intact. Wash them thoroughly and boil them whole and unpeeled, leaving the root on as well. Cooking time will vary with size, with the larger beets requiring up to one hour for them to soften. Cool them enough to handle, cut off the root and the stem ends, then rub off the skins. You can then slice, chop, dice, or grate the beets.

To roast the beets, it's best to cut off the root and the stem ends. Spray them with non-stick spray, then roast at 400 for about 30‑40 minutes. Use the fork method to see if they are cooked in the middle. Sprinkle with salt and some fresh thyme, dill, walnuts, then toss chunks of feta or blue cheese on top prior to serving. You don't want to break up the cheese and goop‑up the presentation.

As a child of the >50s, I recollect Grandma simmering beets, adding several cups of beet sugar, then, with a snow‑white cornstarch slurry, she would thicken the heady, magenta sauce, add grated orange zest, a pinch of salt and cinnamon. Sweeten with maple syrup, honey, or consume them bare‑naked. (Not you, silly.)

Here's a final beet of wisdom: my physician brother in Vermont told me a story about a terrified male patient, horrifyingly alarmed by his psychedelic ruby stool. The red‑faced patient, however, was infinitely relieved to find out it was only his excessive friendship with his very first harvest of beets.

 

Chef Wendell hosts Eat Right Now on WISH TV 8 CBS Indianapolis. He can be reached at 317-372-2592 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Visit his website at Chefwendell.com.

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