September 23, 2008

Locavore Lore - Looking for the perfect seasonal dish? Beet it

Making out under the bleachers … smoking cigarettes behind the bushes … carving dirty words on the stall doors. What did the poor beet do to deserve such a bad reputation? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered another vegetable as maligned and misunderstood as the beet, which is one of the most delicious root vegetables on the planet. They weren’t always on my list of all-time favorites — until I discovered the roasted variety, which got me so completely addicted that I now eat them constantly and even enjoy them raw. I’ve become so enamored with beets that it’s rare to come to dinner at my house during beet season, which is expansive, and not be served some form of this delicious root. And speaking of seasonal eating, there is no better vegetable to celebrate the beginning of autumn than this decadent crimson orb. 

As beets are cropping up at farmers markets all over town, the siren song from bushel baskets overflowing with these round red roots is proving irresistible to patrons who have discovered their fantastic flavor. Not only do beets now seem to be more abundant locally, there is also an increasing variety being offered — so when you fill up your market bag, be sure to ask what type you’re buying. It’s interesting to notice the sometimes-striking variations in flavor, and the visual distinctions among varieties are even more noteworthy. I’ve seen local displays of white, pink, deep purple, bright red and the fanciful chioggia, which displays beautifully alternating red and white rings when sliced horizontally. And then there’s the golden beet, which deserves a column all its own. If you find these beauties at your market, stock up — they are incredibly delicious and not as plentiful as other varieties. Not only are they a brilliant golden color, when cooked, they develop a depth of sweetness unparalleled in any other vegetable I’ve tasted. They are divine. 

Photo by Holly Clark: Be on the lookout for these Detroit Dark Red Beets at your local farmers market.
Photo by Holly Clark: Be on the lookout for these Detroit Dark Red Beets at your local farmers market.

The seductive sweetness of beets is just the beginning, as their deliciousness is rivaled only by their high nutrient content and numerous health benefits. Beets are a terrific source of iron, which is significant if you’re among the increasing number of people reducing their meat intake. The vegetable is also high in the B vitamin folate. This is especially good news for women, as this nutrient is often lacking in women’s diets. Additionally, beets are high in potassium and vitamin C, and studies suggest that the compound that gives beets their deep crimson hue, betacyanin, could be a powerful cancer-fighting agent. 

On top of the deliciousness of the beetroot itself, you’ve also got the beet greens, which are not only tasty; they, too, are extremely high in iron and contain significant amounts of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. Beet greens can be prepared like any other leafy green (steamed, sautéed or stir-fried), but they have a unique tenderness and subtle sweetness that elevates them above many of their leafy cousins. 

Not only is this prime time for savoring beets, it is also an ideal time to add them to your diet to support the internal and external shifts brought about by the transition into autumn. As the season prompts us to transition into a new state of being, one that is directed toward sinking down and becoming more inwardly-focused than the flowering, outwardly-focused summer season, the changes occurring in our bodies can be much smoother when we eat foods that support these shifts. Many schools of wisdom recognize the actual changes in our bodies as we begin this six-month period of less light and cooler temperatures, the most notable of which is the preponderance of iron in the blood. For those who are new to exploring the interconnectedness of human and planetary evolution, it can be understood by witnessing the leaves falling from the trees and the changes in the scent and temperature of the air. Naturally, what is happening externally will affect us internally. 

So how does eating beets help us ease into a new season? In a nutshell, increasing iron intake during this time can give us much-needed strength and energy, in addition to supporting the spiritual shifts that often occur at such points of transition. In anthroposophical and other earth-oriented traditions, autumn is regarded as a time to focus on inner initiative and free, strong, creative will. Increasing iron in your diet is both symbolic and literal in its significance. You’ve heard the term “iron-will.” In addition to the physical benefits of beets, there are myriad psycho-spiritual ones. You can’t beet that, can you? 

Photo by Holly Clark: An example of Early Scarlet Globe Beets.
Photo by Holly Clark: An example of Early Scarlet Globe Beets.

Finally, beets pair beautifully with a variety of fresh herbs. One that’s coming into abundance right now is rosemary, whose soft complexity marries beautifully with the sharp sweetness of the roasted beets. Rosemary has been used homeopathically for thousands of years, and its most common applications include treating headaches, enhancing memory, relieving weariness and promoting digestion. In other realms, it’s often used in helping discern one’s true path and to develop inner peace and clarity. I’ve seen rosemary at several local markets, but if you can’t find any, you can also substitute basil, sage or a mixture of other herbs with this recipe. The sweetness of the beets adapts well to a variety of flavors.

  

Autumnal Roasted Beets

8-10 medium-sized beets

1 onion, chopped

1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary, finely chopped

3-4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped 

2-4 tablespoons of olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325. Thinly slice beets and drizzle with olive oil, mix to evenly distribute oil. Toss with onion, garlic, salt and pepper to coat evenly. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook for 20-25 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes to prevent sticking and ensure even cooking. Also, depending on how thinly sliced, check them periodically to make sure they aren’t burning. You can also easily substitute or add any other root vegetables to this recipe, such as carrots, parsnips, radishes or turnips.