One of my favorite root veggies is the sweet, earthy, colorful beet. Jews and beets go way back; they’re mentioned in Yiddish literature dating all the way back to the Middle Ages. Russian and Polish Ashkenazi Jews have used the beet for centuries to make borscht, a bright-red soup made from pureed beets. Moroccan Sephardic Jews enjoy beets in salads and cumin-spiced soups. Beets even play a part in the Rosh Hashanah blessing.
Beets also happen to be super healthy. They contain powerful nutrient compounds that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and colon cancer. They’re rich in folate, potassium, and fiber too.
But how to prepare them? For many years, I didn’t bother to learn. While I love their flavor, I’d often take the lazy way out and buy canned or pre-peeled salad beets from the produce section. Then one day, a friend served me her favorite beet salad recipe. The beets were rich and firm, busting with juicy flavor. I asked her how she’d prepped the beets for the salad… the only way I knew was boiling, which seemed to drain out much of the flavor.
“I roast them,” she replied. “It’s super easy.”
And I’ve been roasting them ever since! My friend taught me to roast them in the oven, wrapping each beet individually in foil. Over time I have simplified her process by placing the beets in a foil-lined baking dish. Same tasty results, less hassle and waste.
Never roasted a beet? It’s simple! Just follow these steps.
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- Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a 9x13 baking dish with foil.
- As the oven is heating up, prep your beets for roasting. Use kitchen shears to trim leaves and upper stems of the beets, leaving about 2 inches of the stems intact at the top of each beet. Do not trim the tails of the beets; if you do, you’ll lose precious juicy flavor that will drizzle out of the trimmed tails during roasting. Gently scrub the beets clean and pat dry. You want to get the dirt off of them, but you don't want to scrub the skin off-- it will help to hold the juices in while the beets roast.
- Place the beets in the a single layer in the bottom of the foil lined baking dish.
- Cover the baking dish tightly with foil.
- Roast the beets in the oven for 45 minutes to 2 hours (very large beets may take even longer). Use a pair of tongs to flip the beets every 30 minutes to make sure they roast evenly on all sides. Roasting time will depend on the size of your beets; small young beets are more tender and take less time to roast, while larger beets take longer. Start checking your beets for doneness at 45 minutes by piercing the largest beet in the bunch with a wooden skewer. If the skewer easily and smoothly glides through the center of the beet, they’re ready. If not, roast another 10 minutes and test again. Continue to test until they're ready.
- After cooking, uncover the beets and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes till you can easily handle them. Cut off the beet stems and tails.
- Peel the skin from the beets while they are still warm. There are many different ways to peel a beet, and all of them are messy. Beets have a lot of pigment, which tends to stain anything and everything it comes into contact with, including your hands. Some cooks recommend scrubbing the beets gently with a kitchen towel to remove the skin (make sure it’s a towel you don’t mind staining red). Others use paper towels or plastic gloves to protect the hands. I’ve tried using gloves, but they make gripping the thin slippery skin more difficult. I prefer simply removing the skin with my bare fingers under cold running water; the skin slides off easily this way, and the red beet juice comes off of my hands with a few soap-and-water washes. For stubborn skin stains, I apply a little lemon juice. You might want to wear an apron when peeling your beets, to protect your clothes from stray beet juice droplets. If your fingers get a little stained, don't fret-- it will wear off in a day or two.
- By the end of this process, you will have some beautifully roasted beets! And once they're roasted, there are endless ways to prepare and enjoy them.