They’re one of those vegetables. You know, the kind that most people turn up their noses at because at some point in their lives, they were served a bowl of mushy, tasteless purple roots that had been cooked to death and left unseasoned. Why anybody would do that to a vegetable is beyond me, especially one as amazing as a beet. When cooked correctly, these amazing little veggies can taste almost like candy, which is why I’ve been trying to grow them in our gardens for the past couple of years. This year finally showed some success with a couple rows of roots and greens set for picking despite the wet start to the season.
Whether or not you’re one to gobble down beets whenever the opportunity arises, they are a source of many healthy nutrients. Most notably, beets contain more iron than spinach, a fact that surprised me when I learned it given that I often associate iron with dark leafy greens. Iron is a critical component of red blood cells, working to help move oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of tissues. It also plays an important role in energy production, which is one reason why you feel fatigued when your iron levels get too low.
The deep color of beets signals that they’re a rich source of antioxidant phytonutrients, most importantly the type that fight unwanted inflammation in the body. In fact, the antioxidants in beets actually inhibit key parts of the body’s inflammatory cascade, preventing inflammation before it starts. Neat, huh?
Last but not least, beets provide a lot of fiber. I’m sure you’re probably sick of hearing it by now, but fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet, and not just for the obvious reason. Not only does fiber keep you–ahem–regular; it serves as food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. The more of these “good guy” bacteria you have, the less of a chance there is for pathogens to take hold. Good gut flora also serve to produce some B vitamins and vitamin K, along with short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that keep your colon healthy.
I’m not sure whether Robin Robertson had any of this in mind when she came up with Beets with Greens and Slivered Apricots, but it’s an amazing dish regardless. 1,000 Vegan Recipes is such a jam-packed book that I’m always finding new gems hiding among its pages. This one was nestled in the Vegetable Side Dishes chapter and is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: beets and their greens cooked with a sweet sauce made from lemon juice and dried apricots. That’s it. Nothing fancy, nothing difficult.
Though it’s an easy recipe to prepare, this one does take a while since you have to roast the beets before slicing them up. But that gives you plenty of time to prep the greens and apricots as well as decide on what you want to have as your side dish. I settled on a mixture of spelt berries and white beans flavored with a little lemon juice. I didn’t want to do anything too complicated, since the beet mixture itself promised to have a rich, sweet flavor. Plus I’m a huge sucker for spelt berries. The local co-op used to make a spelt berry salad with dried cranberries and a bunch of veggies that sent me straight to the moon every time I had it.
The only thing with cooking beets is the mess. Oh, the mess. Slicing open freshly roasted beets makes your kitchen look like a scene from some rather nasty crime drama. And it’s not like cutting up soaked apricots is clean, either. However, as with any good food, it’s a mess worth making. You also can’t be squeamish about doing dishes with this recipe. The sauce gets cooked separately before being added to the pan, and if you decide to cook a grain along with it, that’s pan number three!
I didn’t add any extra sweetener to the apricot sauce the sauce; that seemed redundant to me. Instead, I let the apricots do their thing, caramelizing a bit as they cooked down in the lemon juice. I did have to add some extra liquid, but it all worked out in the end. When mixed together with the roasted beets and lightly sauteed beet greens, seasoned with a bit of pepper and served alongside the spelt berries and beans, this was one heck of a meal. It didn’t hurt that I’d just picked the beets out of the garden a few days before.
So. If you like earthy, sweet and slightly bitter flavors, you’ll love this. And so will anyone who claims to hate beets. Because let me tell you, if candy grew on trees (or, in this case, underground), this is what it would taste like. Another winner from Robin Robertson for sure!
Murray, M., N.D., Pizzorno, J., N.D., Pizzorno, L., M.A., L.M.T. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Simon and Schuster
Beets (n.d.). In World’s Healthiest Foods. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=49