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Discover the sweetness of roasted beets

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Even though beets are the sweetest vegetable, not everyone is a fan. In fact, there are probably as many people who hate them as there are people who love them.

A friend in the anti-beet camp expressed her dislike very succinctly: “They taste like dirt.”

As a beet lover, I prefer the term “earthy.”

Beets are reminiscent of the scent of your garden right after a rain. The chemical responsible is geosmin.

People are quite sensitive to the taste of geosmin, so it is next to impossible to win someone over to the beet camp if they dislike this taste.

If you still want to try, you might want to mention some of the health benefits of beets. Aside from their beautiful colors, they are rich in antioxidants, folic acid, potassium and fiber. Betalain, an antioxidant unique to beets, is being studied for use as a weapon to fight cancer.

In addition to their health benefits, beets have long been considered an aphrodisiac. The Romans decorated the brothels in Pompeii with frescos of beets. Many foods have this reputation through folklore, but in the case of beets, it has some basis in fact. Beets contain large amounts of boron, a trace mineral that is related to the production of human sex hormones.

The best way to bring out the sweetness of beets is to roast them. To roast beets, first scrub them well and cut off a slice on the root end. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper, wrap them in aluminum foil and place them in a 375-degree oven. The amount of time it takes to cook them depends on their size, but it is usually between 45 and 60 minutes.

You can test for doneness by stabbing them with a cake tester or toothpick. Once they’re done, let them cool a bit and then slip off the skins under cold running water.

The beets can be roasted ahead of time if you have your oven on for something else. An exact temperature is not important.

When picturing beets, people usually think of the dark red ones available in supermarkets. If you are looking to add to your beet palette, check out Dave Dietz’s stand in Central Market, where you can find not only red but also yellow and candy-striped varieties.

A good way to showcase the colors of roasted beets is in a composed salad. Pairing the beets with arugula and goat cheese sets off their sweetness.

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 bunch arugula

2-3 beets (depending on size)

4 ounces goat cheese

Salt and pepper

Whisk together the oil and balsamic vinegar. Set aside.

Arrange the arugula on large salad plates. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Cut the beets into match sticks or use small cookie cutters to make interesting shapes.

Top with crumbled goat cheese. Drizzle on the dressing and serve.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.

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A previous version of this article misspelled Dave Dietz's name. The article has been corrected.