Nourish: From top to bottom, a bounty of beets

 
By Ellie Krieger
The Washington Post
Updated 4/27/2016 7:32 AM
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  • All the parts of nutrient-dense beets are meant to be eaten together, the roots' earthy sweetness balanced beautifully by the pleasant bitterness of the stems and leaves.

    All the parts of nutrient-dense beets are meant to be eaten together, the roots' earthy sweetness balanced beautifully by the pleasant bitterness of the stems and leaves. Dixie D. Vereen/The Washington Post

If you typically cut the stems and leaves off your beets and discard them, you are missing out. They complement one another in flavor and nutrition. The leaves of the beet plant are delicious raw, when they are especially tender and young, as well as cooked. It seems the parts are meant to be together, not only in the soil, but also on the plate.

Beet greens and roots are packed with nutrients, but they are mates with different assets. Like other dark, leafy vegetables, the greens are packed with vitamin A, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium and the eye-health duo lutein and zeaxanthin. The roots are rich in folate, fiber, nitric oxide (which improves blood flow) and antioxidants called betalains that give them their crimson color and also can help the human body neutralize toxins and fight inflammation.

The parts of this power plant even taste as if they are meant to be eaten together, the roots' earthy sweetness balanced beautifully by the pleasant bitterness of the stems and leaves.

The accompanying recipe is a case in point. In it, the beet roots are roasted so they are tender and sweet, then cooled and diced. The leaves and tender stems are chopped, then cooked with a touch of oil and garlic. They are joined in the skillet by the diced beets and a sweet-tangy splash of orange juice and balsamic vinegar.

Of course, a key to the dish is finding beets that have a bounty of fresh leaves attached, which is mostly easy to do throughout the year. When you get home, if you aren't cooking them that night, separate the stems and leaves from the root, leaving about an inch of the stems on the roots, and store each separately in the refrigerator. The roots can be roasted several days ahead so they'll be on hand to make this quick, flavorful, whole-plant side dish.

• Ellie Krieger's newest cookbook is "You Have It Made: Delicious, Healthy, Do-Ahead Meals" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016). She blogs and offers a weekly newsletter at www.elliekrieger.com.

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