Helen Norman

Virginia Willis shares her favorite ways to cook with beets in her column Cooking with Virginia.

Beets are the okra of the root vegetable world—folks either love them or hate them. My mother was firmly in the anti-beet crowd, so we never had beets on our family table. My beet breakthrough came with my very first job cooking as an apprentice to Nathalie Dupree on set for her PBS cooking series. Her recipe called for chopped cubes of beets sautéed with grated ginger and butter until just tender; then beet leaves were added to the pan and quickly steamed to finish the dish. The cubed beets looked like rubies against the bright green leaves. It was a beautiful, delicious dish and completely mind-opening. While my mother and grandmother taught me cooking fundamentals, Nathalie took me out of my mother’s kitchen and exposed me to things I had never seen or tasted, resulting in my newfound love of beets.

There are many types of beets available in the markets today: red, golden, Chioggia beets with their distinctive white-and-red interior circles, and baby ones the size of walnuts. When buying beets, healthy leaves are a sign of freshness, so look for leaves that are vibrant, green, and not wilted. I find it best to purchase them with the leaves and stems on, but if you buy them without, make sure the beets are firm and have no soft spots or bruises. If you’re really short on time, precooked beets are increasingly available in produce departments and are great
for tossing into salads.

Photo: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Missie Neville Crawford; Food Styling Torie Cox

Beets are incredibly versatile and can be grilled, roasted, sautéed, pickled, steamed, juiced, or spiralized. You can work them into your meals from breakfast to dessert.

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But beware, vibrant beets have a reputation for leaving their marks—pesky, hard-to-remove pink ones. Try these tips for quick cleanup.

On a Cutting Board: Scrub half of 1 lemon and a generous amount of coarse salt into the board. Rinse with cold water; repeat
if necessary.

On Hands: Over the sink, coat hands with a small amount of baking soda and water. Rub vigorously; then rinse and repeat until the stains are completely gone.

On Clothing: Immediately treat with a spot stain remover (like Dreft); wash in cold water with fabric-appropriate bleach, if needed.