Beets and zucchini, I’m convinced, are devious twins in a secret vegetable conspiracy. Okay, perhaps not quite twins — but both are vegetables, and both are devastatingly good for you so you really have to make an effort to eat them periodically, and both are often grown with great success in home gardens.

This last point, of course, means that both beets and zucchini (and also Swiss chard, but I must draw the line somewhere!) have a habit of showing up at my back door, all unannounced and often in anonymity.

It’s wonderful to have generous gardening neighbours, of course, and over the years I’ve developed a fine collection of tasty zucchini squash recipes… The Free Beet Issue is a relatively new phenomenon around here, however, so I’m still figuring out how to cook them so they taste good enough for even veggie-hating men to try a few.

As a child, I myself was rather keen on both beet roots and beet greens, especially if the former were sweet-pickled and the latter were lightly steamed.

As I age, however, beets begin to thrill me less. A good bit of this can be attributed to the fact that beets, straight from the garden soil (as opposed to straight from the can) call for an awful amount of kitchen work before you can even think of how to cook and serve them.

That’s what I was doing yesterday afternoon: washing the worse of the mud off a gift of a half-bushel basket of freshly pulled beets, cutting the green tops off, washing the greens and taking them for a whiz in the salad spinner, and scrubbing the beet roots again with my little veggie brush.

Done with them yet? Oh no.

The thickest of the beet stems must be cut into manageable lengths for later steaming or other cooking methods — a bit like cutting over-fat asparagus into one-inch pieces so it will cook in the same amount of time as the rest of it. And the beets themselves must be heartily boiled for a half-hour or more, depending on size, then plunged immediately into cold water so the skins will slip off.

Not a difficult or highly skilled culinary task, to be sure, but if you’re a smidgen on the klutzy side (like me) the kitchen can end up looking like some terrible vegetable massacre has taken place — bright red beet juice everywhere! But at last you can get around to browsing the recipe books…

By the way, here’s a tip — save about a half-cup of the liquid you cooked the beets in, when you’re draining them after boiling. A remarkable number of recipes — Harvard Beets, Orange-Glazed Beets, most of the beet recipes in my little card index, it seems — will expect you to have done this and will call for the beet juice in making a sauce. If you try to use plain water instead, and I speak from experience here, there’s a risk that the whole beet dish will turn out to be a rather insipid and unappetizing pink instead of the traditional ruby (beet) red that does look so pretty on the plate.

And this is the point where I’d normally give a recipe or two, but frankly, after all that prep work yesterday, I’m totally bored with beets just now… For those who simply must know what will be on my dinner table tonight, however, you can find a close approximation of my own Harvard Beets recipe on Enjoy, veggie lovers!

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