Beets are often described as having a sweet, earthy flavor, which is a euphemistic way of saying that their taste is unique and polarizing. Like the New York rock band named after them, beets are not for everyone.
If you like beets, great; please keep reading. If you don’t, great; there is absolutely nothing I or anyone else can say to change your mind. (The only thing you can do, if you want to make someone like beets, is to intervene while they’re still young.)
There are many decent ways to serve beets, and all of them require staining your hands fuchsia. If you want to serve them sliced in a salad, you can wrap them in foil and bake them. This makes them easier to peel, but it also makes them more prone to gush juice all over your countertop. The alternative—peeling them before you cook them—will turn the space between your fingernails and your fingertips maroon for days, but it is fairly straightforward, assuming your vegetable peeler is adequately sharp.
When raw, beets are crunchy in an unpleasantly wood-like way. But cooked, they’re dense, velvety, even creamy in texture. One of the nicest ways to showcase that texture is in a puréed riff on borscht, the chunky Eastern European stew. Borscht usually contains beets, carrots, and potatoes (along with various other winter vegetables). That trio of root vegetables blends into a charming, deep red purée that’s equally delicious hot and cold. The potato’s starch gives the soup more body, and the carrots contribute a soupçon of extra sweetness, but the beets dominate the soup’s flavor (and appearance).
It’s crucial to add a squeeze of lemon to this soup—beets and citrus are famously compatible, and the extra acid adds a stimulating base note that makes you want to keep eating.
Puréed Beet Soup
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and black pepper
2½ pounds beets, peeled and chopped
½ pound starchy potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
6 cups vegetable, chicken, or beef stock
Juice of 1 lemon
Sour cream for garnish (optional)
Chopped fresh dill for garnish (optional)
1. Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the beets, potatoes, and carrot and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes, then add the stock.
2. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat so the mixture simmers gently. Cook until the vegetables are fully tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Add the lemon juice and purée with an immersion blender. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve hot or cold, garnished with the sour cream and dill, if desired. (Store leftover soup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to several days.)