Beets are a nutritious, tasty and easily cooked food. A cup of beets provides a big dose of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, fiber, folate, potassium and manganese. Baking beets in the oven is an especially easy way of preparing this versatile vegetable and the finished product can be eaten as is or further prepared for a side dish, salad or soup.
Beets are usually available year round, but they have a season when they grow best. The optimum conditions for beet growing are cool and moist. If you grow your own beets, the best time to plant will depend on your location, but early spring and fall are usually best planting times.
Finding beets at the supermarket is generally not a problem any time of year. Look for beets that are firm, blemish free and not too large. If they have tops with leaves, bunches that are crisp have probably been handled more carefully and are fresher and will taste better.
Farmers markets are another good place to look for beets. They are more likely to be available there in the spring, early summer or late fall because they are not being shipped from far away. Farmers market beets are likely to be the freshest, most flavorful and the place to find unusual varieties.
Preparing for Baking
There is not much needed for getting beets ready for baking. Simply trim both ends about one half inch. Do not peel the beets. There are several reasons for this. The skin will help the interior of the beet steam by keeping moisture in. Fewer nutrients will be lost this way. It is also much easier to peel the beet after it is cooked. The skin will easily slip off then and can then be discarded.
If you wash the beets right before baking, the water will cause them to steam a bit more. This will still give you a tasty end result, but baking the beet dry can intensify the flavor. If you want to try them this way, dry them with a towel or wash them ahead of time and let them air dry.
Put the beets in a heavy casserole dish that has a tight fitting lid. If you do not have one of these, you can use a heavy pan that is oven proof covered tightly with aluminum foil. Whatever the cover, make sure it fits well for keeping in moisture.
You can bake the beets alone or with meats or other winter vegetables like carrots, potatoes, parsnips, onions, whole cloves of garlic and winter squash. If you add other vegetables, remember that the beets have a strong red color that they may imparted to the other vegetables. Sometimes you can find beets that are white or orange inside and these will not add a red color to the other vegetables while baking. Baking red beets in a separate pan from other vegetables or meat is another option.
Preheat the oven to 400º Fahrenheit and bake for 60 to 90 minutes until the beets are easily pierced with a fork. Cool and remove the skins.
Enjoying the Results
Once they are baked, beets can be sliced or diced and then sautéed with a little butter, a half teaspoon of sugar, and some salt and pepper for a tasty side dish.
They can also be sliced and mixed with rice wine or other flavored vinegar and chilled as a condiment or beet salad, or just cut up and added to a regular salad. The baked beets can also be added to soup or just eaten along side meat or poultry of any kind without any further preparation. There are many other recipes for preparing the cooked beets.
However you eat them, baked beets are easy and nutritious and go well with many other foods at just about any meal.