Beets have the unfortunate problem of appearing to many to be difficult to handle. They need to be prepared in advance of whatever recipe for which they will be used. You have to get the skin off, they take a while to become tender, and you need to be careful not to ruin your clothes in the process. Yes, beets stain. Betanin in beetroots is used commercially to color everything from tomato paste, to ice cream, to ink, and even hair. Although it will wash off your hands with soap and water, ladies, careful of those French manicures!
There are a variety of methods people use to cook beets. We put these nutrient power balls through the CHC test kitchen to determine which we liked the best. Whichever method is used, follow these basic guidelines:
- If possible, choose beets that are all as uniform in size as possible.
- Smaller beetroots cook more quickly, saving precious time.
- Select smooth beets with as few blemishes as possible.
- If the greens are attached, they should look healthy and un-wilted. Save the greens to use in the same, or another dish. They can be cooked like spinach leaves.
- Before using, remove all but 1″ of stems; leave most of root intact on the opposite end.
- Gently scrub beets under cold water to remove dirt before cooking, being careful not to break the skin. While some people recommend peeling the skin before cooking, it is better not to. Removing skin from a cooked beet is incredibly quick and easy, and doesn’t waste any of the beetroot. It also helps keep the color, flavor and nutrients inside. (See skin removal process below)
- If beets are large, halve or quarter them for faster cooking time.
For all cooking methods, prepare beets as above.
1. Stove-Top Boiling: Place prepared beets in heavy duty saucepan. Completely cover with water, leaving at least 2″ on top for some bubbling. Bring just to boil, then turn down just slightly to prevent too much spurting. Cover and gently boil until beets are tender when pierced with tip of sharp knife. Although cooking times vary depending on size of beets, this method generally takes about 20 minutes. Drain immediately. Save nutrient rich beet water for soup! Let sit for 5-10 minutes.
2. Stove-Top Steaming: Place 2 inches of water at bottom of a steamer (or pot with steamer basket). Arrange beets in single layer in steamer basket and bring water to boil. Cover pot and boil, checking water level occasionally. Add more water, if necessary. Again, depending on size, steaming beets should take approximately 35-45 minutes. If you quarter small beets, they could take as little as 15 minutes to cool. They are done when tender when pierced with sharp knife tip. Remove from basket and cool for 5-10 minutes.
3. Oven Roasting: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place beets in bowl and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, to taste. Wrap beets in aluminum foil, being sure to tightly seal. If beets are different sizes, wrap similarly-sized beets together in separate sheets. Place packets on rimmed baking sheet and place in preheated oven. Roast for 45-60 minutes, depending on size, checking for doneness every 20 minutes, or so. When done, carefully open foil and let cool for several minutes.
4. Microwaving: Pierce beets with a fork. Place prepared beets in a single layer in small, microwave-safe dish Add 2-4 tablespoons water. Cover with lid or plastic wrap. Place in microwave and cook on high for 5 minutes. Check water level and rotate the positions of the beets. Cover and cook for another 3-5 minutes and check for doneness. Allow beets to sit in dish for 1-2 minutes before removing.
Peeling the Skins: Now that your beets are cooked, peeling the skin is easy. Place beets on plate or cutting board and, using a paper towel, gently rub the skin off. That’s it! Your beets are ready to use in your recipe.
Culinary Health Club Comments: Although any of these cooking methods will get the job done, they each have their pros and cons. Here’s how the CHC comes out on cooking beets ~
- Stove-top boiling makes it easier to have eyes on the action and does not take too long. It also produces a nutrient-rich liquid which can be used in another dish.
- Stove-top steaming keeps more of the nutrients in the beet and is, therefore, one of the healthiest ways to cook them.
- Oven roasting retains the best flavors. If wrapped separately, different sizes can be cooked together and removed at different times to achieve desired doneness. The aluminum foil keeps the mess down. In addition to preserving maximum flavors, roasting also preserves color and nutrients.
- Microwaving…well…. It is the fastest. We’ll give it that. But it is also the least reliable. Microwave temperatures vary greatly and a lot can go wrong very quickly. Beets can overcook before you know what’s happening. The water can evaporate and the beets can get scorched. If you have the time and patience (and beets!) to experiment with your own microwave, this could be an efficient method once the timing is perfected.
Cooked beets can save for 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator. The uncooked greens will save for only 1-2 days. Use them right away! Not an advanced planner? Too busy to cook beets? Try grating raw beets and adding to salads.