Pity the lowly beet. Most people first meet it when it emerges from a can, bathed in mysterious fluids that have rendered its flesh strangely gelatinous. Children who have encountered it once often have little interest in renewing the acquaintance.
Perhaps, though, the kids should give the beet another chance. The trick is to eschew the cans and get back to beet basics by baking them in the oven. Beets have the highest sugar content of any vegetable, so it is not necessary to do much to them to have them turn out well. They also pack a lot of nutritional value. Beets are an excellent source of dietary fiber and are low in calories and fat but high in calcium, folic acid, and potassium.
The simplest approach is to bake the beets whole. After removing the leaves and stem to within one inch of the beet itself, scrub the beet to remove any surface soil. The beets can then be placed whole in a baking dish or wrapped individually in foil and placed directly in the oven. Bake in a 400 degree oven until done. Time in the oven depends on the size of the beet, but about 45 minutes to an hour will generally suffice.
Note that beets do not need to be removed from their skins prior to baking. When they are done, the skin will slip right off. That is both a test for doneness and a convenient characteristic of beets when it is time to eat.
Note also that nothing needs to be added to the beets before they go into the oven. Adding any sort of liquid will result in beets that are more steamed than baked.
The beet greens that were removed prior to baking can be used in salads and are an excellent source of vitamin C, iron and calcium.
Beets can also be baked after being peeled and cut into chunks. In that case, they can be tossed with some olive oil, salt and pepper and a bit of lemon juice prior to baking. Some minced garlic can be included for a taste that is more savory than sweet. Other herbs can be added according to taste and the beets are then baked in that same 400 degree oven for 30 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the chunks. They are done when easily pierced with a fork.
After they are done, the beets can be topped with some orange or lemon zest or tossed with herbs depending on whether anything was added before they went into the oven. Fresh herbs, especially fresh mint, can make an appealing complement to the natural sweetness of the beets.
Beets that are cut into chunks can happily be combined with other vegetables like carrots and potatoes for baking. The same time and temperature rules apply and everything should be ready to come out of the oven at the same time as long as the vegetables are all similar in size.
Baking is far superior to boiling for flavor and texture. It provides the additional benefit of preserving more of the beet’s nutritional value, which is itself substantial, and it is difficult to imagine anything easier or more foolproof to prepare.