Red beets — robust, ruddy-red spheres armed with folate, the superstar vitamin essential in preventing neural-tube birth defects and fighting the battle against heart disease. One half cup (cooked fresh and sliced) delivers as much folate (68 micrograms) as 1 whole cup of fresh orange juice and twice the fiber (1.8 grams) of 1 whole cup of raw, shredded cabbage. It also has helpful, healthful nudges of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and iron — and only 37 fat-free calories!
Selecting: Choose small, hard, well-rounded beets that are uniform in size. Skin should be a deep-dark, dramatic red, smooth, and unblemished. Avoid beets with soft, moist spots or that appear wrinkled. The taproot tells of tenderness: A slim one is best. And the freshest beets have small, crisp, dark-green leaves.
Storing : Once home, immediately chop off greens within an inch of the beet (they tend to draw moisture). Place unwashed whole beets with taproot intact in a plastic bag and store in refrigerator crisper for up to 3 weeks. When you’re ready to cook them, wash beets thoroughly, but skip the veggie brush; red beets are thin-skinned. Red alert: Remember, always cook beets whole to avoid bleeding. Peel, remove taproot, and slice only after cooking.
Enjoying: Try these cool summer treats:
- Mix up a big bowlful of greens; then in a blender, puree 1 c beets with 1/2 c chicken broth, 1/3 c balsamic vinegar, 1/2 Tbsp honey, and 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add 1 Tbsp minced chives and drizzle over greens.
- Separately cook (roast or boil) and dice 2 or 3 carrots and 2 or 3 beets. Toss with a few sliced scallions and your favorite low-fat vinaigrette; or try whisking with orange marmalade and freshly squeezed orange juice with a touch of horseradish mixed in.
- For a refreshingly cool, sweeter version of Russian borscht: Puree cooked beets, chunks of cucumber, defatted chicken broth, and a little honey. Season with horseradish to taste. Refrigerate at least an hour; then serve icy cold with a swirl of plain, nonfat yogurt.