Much like the current political climate, beets breed polarization. You either love ‘em or you don’t. Neutral feelings about beets are about as rare as real food at a Seven Eleven, and I am convinced, after a small and highly unscientific poll of a few of my closest friends and co-workers, that those who hate on beets were damaged by them in childhood.
I asked a few folks if they were served beets as a child and how they felt about it. Most who found the oft-dreaded red menace on their plates reported they came from a can, either plain or pickled. Most of those who suffered the canned version grew up to dislike them, but those whose palates were able to recover from the abuse, some with extensive culinary therapy, went on to have a healthy relationship with beets. Which is good, because beets are exceedingly healthy for you.
Beets are a superb anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory food, like many vegetables, but even more so because of unique phytonutrients called betalains. That means they’re good for your brain, heart and just about all your other tissues.
But one of my favorite benefits of beets is the lift they give your liver, and we could all use a little liver lift. The liver is a hard-working and sometimes underappreciated organ that acts as a janitor and cleans up after our nutritional and environmental indiscretions. Those same betalains I just mentioned facilitate the detoxification process. As a nutritionist, I can tell you that a happy liver is not an option on the road to good health!
Many of those, including myself, who now count beets among their favorites, came to appreciate them when they tried them roasted. At their simplest, roasted beets can be made by tossing trimmed and peeled or unpeeled beets, cut in quarters or eighths, with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and some sea salt and pepper. Roasting at 400 degrees, just until tender, and then drizzling with a little balsamic vinegar, is all that is necessary.
Another bit of beet baggage I had to overcome was the cloying sweetness of the overcooked version. I’ve learned beets pair perfectly with an acid to counteract their natural sweetness. Think the aforementioned balsamic vinegar, a fruit vinegar like raspberry or apple cider, or orange or lemon juice.
Another way to enjoy beets is raw, either grated (no need to peel) or sliced paper thin with a mandoline and added to salads or dressed with a vinaigrette as a salad in their own right.
This recipe perfectly offsets the sweetness of lightly roasted beets with both a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and the juice and flesh of an orange. It’s simple to make, improves with a day in the fridge, and it is tasty either warm or at room temperature, so it’s a great make-ahead dish.
Beet and Orange Salad with Basil Vinaigrette
- 3 medium beets, scrubbed and cut into eighths
- 3 T olive oil, divided
- Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
- 1 seedless orange
- 2 T balsamic vinegar
- 3 T chopped basil, plus a few leaves for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the beets in a roasting pan and drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the beets. Season with salt and pepper and toss until evenly coated with the oil. Bake for 30 minutes or until beets are just tender and easily pierced with a fork. Allow beets to cool for 10-15 minutes.
While beets are cooling, grate the rind from the orange, and with a paring knife, peel and section the orange. (Here’s a simple video tutorial on how to zest, peel and section an orange.) In a medium bowl, combine the orange rind, any juice that accumulated when sectioning oranges, the orange juice squeezed from the membranes left behind after sectioning, the balsamic vinegar, basil and remaining olive oil. Whisk well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add beets and stir to coat.
At this point you can refrigerate the beets for several hours or overnight if you have time. The long marinating time only improves this salad. If you don’t have time, mix in the orange slices and serve, spooning some extra dressing over each serving. Garnish with a sprig of basil. If you do refrigerate the beets, bring them to room temperature before serving for the best flavor.
Debra Meadow, NTP, is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner at Blue Raven Wellness (blueravenwellness.com). She helps people eat their way to health with real food that satisfies the senses and supports good health and ideal weight. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.