Friday, September 18, 2009

The Beet Goes On

I hate beets. In my baby book, my mother translated my unspoken sentiments into, “Baby food beets are blah!” She seemed to have blamed the baby food, since beets are popular in my family, and I was doomed to be misunderstood forever. I tried beets again as a young adult, but they hadn’t improved in flavor as I grew up, and decided I’d be better off seeing other vegetables.

Then, in 2007, I made a commitment to more local and sustainable eating, and subscribed to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program (this one). If the contents of the CSA boxes are any indication, beets grow well in southeastern Minnesota. There were lots of them. I was being invaded from all sides.

I couldn’t discard the evidence of my aversion, however, without wasting good food. Beets are nutritious and they look kind of pretty with their odd, bright colors found nowhere else in nature or, in the case of the Chioggia beets, stripes like peppermint candy. (If only they tasted so good!) They seemed to last forever in the refrigerator (perhaps even multiply!), and I couldn’t just say, “Aw, the beets went off. Too bad!” The guilt was getting me down. The beet would go on, and I was going to have to learn to eat it, hopefully without just holding my nose and swallowing it whole.

As in many things, my husband, Harry, was the inspiration in working through this conundrum. Yes, he really likes beets (weirdo!), but it was his intense aversion to coconut that gave me my first clues in this case. He hates the stuff. Won’t touch it. Fears it even. But he will eat Thai-style curries with coconut milk sauces. He calls it “safety coconut.” That was exactly what I needed: recipes for safety beets.

So I strapped on an apron, turned on the film noir voiceover in my head and set out to unearth safety beet recipes. First, I just tried hiding them in dishes with other root vegetables. I roasted them in pans with butternut squash, carrots, rutabagas and potatoes. Okay. I still knew they were there, and I still knew they were beets, but they were under control. Safe enough. I then sliced them very thin and hid a layer of them in Potatoes Anna, a dish of thinly sliced potatoes and butter usually baked in a cast iron pan until golden brown. Again, pretty good and pretty safe. This was working and I was getting bolder.

Finally, I hit the jackpot with a recipe for veggie burgers featuring grated beets and carrots. This one was delicious! It hardly tasted like beets at all! It’s a bit time consuming and a lot messy to make, but it makes a lot of burgers and they freeze well. I now make these a few times a year and freeze them (right next to the pesto), and enjoy, that’s right, actually enjoy them in the months that follow. In fact, I don’t even mind admitting that this is now one of my favorite dishes. These beets are truly safe. Snug as a bug in a rug.

I won’t say that I have achieved a full appreciation for the humble beet, and I’m certainly not convinced that recipes that feature beets as a main flavor component are “safe” enough for me yet. I do have a few more safety recipes up my beet-stained sleeve, however, and though it will go on and on, the beet will not defeat me.

Beet and Carrot Burgers
adapted from Farmer John’s Cookbook

1 cup finely chopped walnuts
½ cup sunflower seeds
2 cups peeled, grated beets
2 cups grated carrots
½ cup grated onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup cooked rice, preferably brown rice
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/3 cup vegetable oil
½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup flour
2 Tbs soy sauce or tamari
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine all of the ingredients in a very large bowl. Mix until completely combined.

2. Divide the mixture into 12 equal portions. Form each portion into a patty and place on baking pans that have been well-greased or lined with a silicone baking mat. (This will be quite messy, but hang in there!)

3. Bake the patties at 350 F for 25 minutes, or until they are well set and beginning to brown on the edges.

4. Serve immediately on a hamburger bun or in a pita (or on a plate), or cool on pans and freeze.

To freeze the burgers, place them in a single layer on a plate or pan on wax paper or parchment paper. Freeze until firm. Remove from the pan and store flat in a freezer bag or other freezer-safe container, separating layers with wax paper or parchment paper.


  1. Anne would I be able to use my huge, overripe beets in this recipe? I kind of forgot them in the garden and I think they're probably rather tough.

  2. Since the beets are grated (or shredded, if you will) in this recipe, I think this might be a good application for tougher specimens. I've used pretty big beets in these burgers myself, and can't remember noticing any difference. I don't know how they might taste, but not being a lover of beets, I might not be a good judge of that anyway!

  3. I don't like beets either, but I might have to try this! I've changed my mind about other foods, why not beets? By the way, I enjoyed your witty writing.

    Last night I made red lentils and brown rice. It turned out very tasty. I now have another healthy option for work lunch. Keep up the good cooking.

    Linda Stone Winter

  4. Thanks! Now I'm bummed that I don't have any red lentils in the cupboard...sounds so good!

    Good luck with conquering beets!!