“Nobody likes beets, Dwight. You should grow something everybody does like. You should grow candy.” Michael Scott, The Office
We couldn’t disagree more! Sure, they may stain your fingers (temporarily!) and can present certain peeling challenges, but we love beets anyway. It’s nearing the end of beet season, so if you are haunted by memories of soggy, too-sweet canned beets now’s the time to give them another chance!
The Beta vulgaris plant has been cultivated since 8th century BC, likely starting in the Mediterranean before moving to the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where beets remain popular today. While we generally associate “beets” with beetroot, other varieties include sugar beets (which are used to make – wait for it – sugar), as well as leafy chard. Quinoa and spinach are also distant relatives.
The deep-red colour of traditional beetroot is a dead-giveaway for potent phytochemicals: beets are rich in the betalain group of phytochemicals, shown to protect cells against oxidative damage (1).
In addition to betalains, beets are also high in inorganic nitrates – no, not *those* nitrates (see: Of Bacon and Beets) – which some hypothesize contributes to the heart health-associated benefits of veggies (2,3). Dietary nitrates are recycled in the body and converted into nitric oxide, a important regulator of blood vessel constriction and relaxation. As a result, researchers suggest that higher intakes of nitrate-rich veggies may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
Aside from the potential benefits for your heart, beets are also linked with improved athletic performance, namely reduced perceived exertion and greater time-to-exhaustion, particularly in running and cycling. See our previous post, Root Down, Beet Down, for the full scoop on beets and performance.
- borscht: from classic to contemporary, this soup is perfect on a chilly autumn evening
- stacked: love these beet and goat cheese napoleons – as beautiful as they are tasty!
- creamy side: this beet risotto recipe is a great addition to any meal, but we also love this barley twist
- salad fixin’: a great salad topper when grated raw, we love the sweetness of warm roasted beets in salad – like our Roasted Rhubarb and Beet Salad
- hummus: add a bit of leftover beet puree to your favourite hummus recipe, because who doesn’t like hot pink food!
Now, what about using beets in baking? It can be done… and it is delicious. Just think of beets as a slightly earthier applesauce to help reduce fat and retain moisture!
Quinoa-Beet Chocolate Cake with Coconut Chocolate Ganache
We love the Moist Chocolate Cake recipe from the Quinoa 365 cookbook, so why mess with perfection? Because using ~ 1/2 cup less butter and sugar (each!) makes a big difference in calories – 125 calories per slice to be exact! So what’s the magic ingredient that makes this possible? You guessed it, beet puree!
We suggest roasting fresh beets and pureeing them, but you could use canned baby beets in a pinch – just make sure to gently rinse them (loads of salt). Fresh raspberries or strawberries make a great garnish for the cake, as does vanilla ice cream!
- 3/4 cup whipping cream or coconut milk
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
- 2/3 cup quinoa
- 1-1/3 cup water
- 1/3 cup milk (soy and coconut work great too!)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled + more for greasing pans (coconut oil is a great veg substitute)
- 1/2 cup beet puree
- 1 cup cane or granulated sugar
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tsp Vietnamese/Saigon cinnamon
- 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Make ganache. Heat whipping cream in a small saucepan to boiling – don’t let it boil over! Turn off the heat and add chocolate chips; allow to rest until melted. Use a rubber spatula to stir the mixture until smooth. Stir in vanilla and coconut. Pour into a room-temperature bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the ganache until firm (will keep for up to one week).
- Cook quinoa. In a medium saucepan, bring quinoa and water to a boil; reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to sit, covered, for another 10 minutes. Pour cooked quinoa into a large bowl and fluff with a fork; allow to cool completely.
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly grease two 8-inch springform pans with butter/coconut oil and line the bottoms with parchment paper cut to fit.
- Combine milk, eggs, and vanilla in a blender. Add 2 cups of the cooked quinoa (you’ll have 1/2 – 3/4 cup left) along with butter and beet puree; blend until smooth.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add quinoa-beet mixture from blender and mix well.
- Divide batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes on the centre rack of the oven, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool completely in the pans.
- Take ganache out of the fridge and stir to loosen. Spread ganache over cakes individually for two separate cakes OR for a layer cake, spread ganache generously between cake layers and over top and sides. Yum!
- Sakihama Y, et al. Beetroot betalain inhibits peroxynitrite-mediated tyrosine nitration and DNA strand cleavage. Free Radic Res 2012; 46:93-9.
- Lidder S, Webb AJ. Vascular effects of dietary nitrate (as found in green leafy vegetables & beetroot) via the Nitrate-Nitrite-Nitric Oxide pathway. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2012; [Epub ahead of print].
- Machha A, Schechter AN. Inorganic nitrate: a major player in the cardiovascular health benefits of vegetables? Nutr Rev 2012; 70:367-72.