From the Farm: How to Cook a Beet

Someday I will achieve full kitchen domination, where there is always a sweet and a savory compound butter in the freezer (just in case a friend drops in and craves a crepe), always a balanced three course meal partially prepared and ready to be whipped up and nothing ever gets thrown away because nothing has been made too far in advance and certainly never forgotten in the back of the bottom drawer.

But until then, there are beets. Beets make me feel like a profound planner. They are one of the few fresh ingredients that I buy in large quantities and cook in one big go. This stems from my inherent love of efficiency—if you are going to turn the oven on it better be for more than one stupid beet. So when the oven is on to make a lasagna, I put a tray full of beets on the other shelf and pat myself on the back while thinking of my low gas bill.

And then, later in the week, when there is no time for a hot meal, I have a Tupperware full of beets ready to be sliced and tossed with whatever else is in the fridge left from when I last had the luxurious choice to spend time in the kitchen. Double back pat for having thought so far ahead!

Through Farmer’s Markets, I realized that there is a world of beets beyond the pickled ones that adorned my grandmother’s appetizer platter—gold and torpedo-shaped, candy-striped and dark, dark red. My preference of which to choose is based around their flavor and color. The darker the beet’s color the earthier and richer the flavor; the lighter the color the sweeter and less complex the flavor. I find this to be true for almost all foods—from cherries to carrots—and that isn’t a judgment on quality of the plant but simply a factor into how it will be paired.

And for beets, the color and how it will compliment what else is on the plate is another decision driver. Gold beets blaze next to greens. Red beets look almost black against the white of goat cheese or sour cream. As a side note, I cook golden beets and red beets in the same pan so that the juices of the red will stain the bottoms of the golds turning them into a sunset. But store them separately or else in a couple of days it will all be one shade of orangey red.

Also at the Market I, for the first time, saw what the greens of the plant looked like and that they were not only edible but delightful. Beet greens can be used any way that you would use kale or chard. They are also compostable if you just can’t be bothered, though that will get you an efficiency demerit.

Beets take to most forms of preparation—boiling, steaming, roasting and even raw. My preference is a hybrid method of steaming and roasting. I scrub the beets and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, place them in a roasting pan, add a good glug of water (about ¼ C or so), cover with tin foil and cook until the beets give easily when pierced with a small knife. If there is any resistance, give them more time.

When the beets come out of the oven, let them cool a bit and then rub their skins off with a paper towel. If the skins don’t yield easily, the beets are probably not fully cooked. Either return them to the oven, or if you are after a more toothsome texture, peel the skins from the beets with a pairing knife or vegetable peeler.

The other thing I love about beets is there simplicity. They don’t need a lot of accompaniment to shine. And my current favorite beet-mate is the various oils from Pressmeister Oils of Traverse City.

Christoph Milz, owner of Pressmeister, imported a press from Germany, set it up on S. Garfield Rd. and in 2012 started selling cold-pressed oils of various seeds and nuts at the Leelanau and Traverse City Markets. I have been blown away by the both the intensity and/or subtly of these different oils.

On top of the enlightening flavor, these are products that I’ve never seen before, let alone used. Oil made from dill seed that tastes gently of the herb, guaranteed to cause dill overload, which happens all too often. Black walnut oil that doesn’t taste of rancid perfume. Poppy seed oil, who knew?! Nothing makes my mind harp on what’s for dinner than working with such interesting and novel foodstuffs. And that is why I love Farmer’s Markets, to be introduced the specialty products that define a region.

The following two recipes are my current favorites to pair with Pressmeister Oils. It should go without saying that these are by no means a comprehensive list of uses for either beets or Christoph’s oils. And it should also go without saying roasted beets, dressed only in one of these oils, has been my dinner even on nights when I have the time to make something more elaborate. They both are that good. 

Beet Puree with Pasta, Golden Raisins and Poppy Seeds

Generally, I use a microwave to warm up my forgotten morning coffee and for little else. But the beets in this recipe will puree to a significantly smoother texture if they are warm. If you have prepared a load of beets earlier in the week and want to make this sauce, simply warm ‘em up in the microwave with a splash of water. Alternatively, if you are cooking loads of beets and want to make the sauce when they are warm out of the oven, do that. It will store in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for a good long time.

This pasta salad also works as a cold salad, but will often take an extra pinch of salt since the flavors will be muted with the cold.

4 beets, steamed or roasted

¼ C olive oil

8oz small pasta, bow ties, orchette or penne

¼ C golden raisins

½ lemon

1 T poppy seeds

Pressmeister Poppy Seed Oil

  • Soak the golden raisins in ½ C hot water with a squeeze of lemon for 10 minutes or until they are plump
  • Strain the raisins, saving the water
  • In a food processor, puree the beets with the olive oil, raisin water and a good pinch of salt and pepper until very smooth. If you like dairy, toss in a glug of cream.
  • Boil the pasta in well salted water and drain
  • Toss the pasta with the beet puree, golden raisins and poppy seeds
  • Transfer to serving platter or individual bowls
  • Drizzle with Poppy Seed Oil 

Beets with Smoked Whitefish, Sour Cream and Dill Oil

6 beets, steamed or roasted

1 bu kale, stripped and washed

4oz smoked whitefish

2oz sour cream

Pressmeister Dill Seed Oil

  • Dry the kale and cut into ribbons
  • Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and massage (literally give it a back rub) until the kale is dark and tender. It will leach some moisture as you rub—don’t worry those are just the cell walls breaking, releasing their moisture and becoming pleasant to chew
  • Flake the whitefish, removing any pin bones
  • Slice the beets into ¼” rounds or half moons—a mandolin will make quick work of this but watch your fingers!
  • Toss the beets and kale together adding salt and pepper as desired
  • On a serving platter, lay out half the beet/kale mixture, scatter half the whitefish and drizzle with sour cream and dill oil. Repeat. Serve.