Monday, June 15, 2009

Beets: A Versatile Vegetable

So I must admit that despite my Garden Center upbringing and vegetarian lifestyle, it wasn’t until an afternoon working the ECC booth at the Banana Split Festival that I actually tasted a beet. Random, I know. As we sat around the table Taylor began to hand off raw veggies he had recently harvested from the garden; he had a selection of turnips, beets (even beet tops), and fruit covered in a delicious basil pesto (also made fresh using herbs from the Denver Memorial Garden, recipe to follow). And it was surprisingly good!

I have to confess I was skeptical. I remember when my dad first started in on his Superfood health kick and began bringing home a random assortment of obscure foods from each grocery store excursion; the pomegranate juice, almonds, and flax seed were just a start, soon he had progressed to raw vegetables that neither my mom nor I had any clue how to cook. And this led to the raw beets. My father, at the time, knew only four recipes, and none of them included beets. So he simply ate them raw, and by this I mean he walked around holding them by the leafy tops and munching off the bulb.

My Dad, Phil Swindler, with fresh beets from our Garden

I have since learned that there is some real value to my dad’s actions, which at the time I considered absurd. Beets are in fact a “superfood,” meaning simply that they are high in fiber, antioxidants, and other “phytochemicals” (non-nutritive plant chemicals in plants that can prevent cancerous changes in cells and other forms of disease). And you can eat, literally, the whole plant. The leafy tops can be cut anytime (limit one to two snips per plant however), and chopped up for salads, sandwiches, etc. The tops are best when they are tender (which is before the root is ready to be pulled).The actual root can be pulled at about the time that it is the size of a ping-pong ball (this is about its half size, and the time when it is its most tender). If you are not sure how large it is, simply uncover the top with your finger (they grow relatively close to the surface). The roots, high in iron and B vitamins, can be baked, boiled, steamed, or eaten raw.

Leafy Beet Tops

Beets are incredibly easy to grow as well. They don’t transplant well so you will grow them from seed. Because they are a compound seed you can expect two to three shoots from each seed (meaning that you may eventually have to “thin” the plant). Simply plant the presoaked seed about ½ inch deep (your first planting can be as early as 2-4 weeks before the last spring frost). To keep up a continuous supply simply plant a new plot/square every three weeks. From seed to harvest it is about 8 weeks. They can be grown in the summer and fall as well (if possible, avoid the hottest part of summer around the middle to the end of July).

And, as promised, here is a quick and easy basil pesto recipe to start you off. Simply wash and cut up a selection of fresh beets, turnips, etc. and cover in this delicious topping (recipe taken from Simply Recipes: click HERE for full article).

Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe
• 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
• 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
• 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
• 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• Special equipment needed: A food processor
1 Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.
2 Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Makes 1 cup.

Enjoy! And of course, you can always eat them raw like Dad!


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