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Sorry for the lack of pictures – I really need to be more consistent with my picture taking.  More often than not, I remember pictures would be good when I am elbow deep in some sort of mess.  I do try to remember to take pictures of the final product but that didn’t happen this weekend.  I need to take pictures of the canned banana butter for tomorrow or you’ll have stock photos of bananas.

This post is less about recipes as it is about learning to use every part of a vegetable.  Beets have become my first real experiment in reduced waste.  We are learning to use every part and we rather like it.

We purchase our beets whole.  This weekend my mom got me 15 pounds from Greenbluff which is a farm co-op sort of deal north of Spokane.  The price was about $.50 a pound (I can’t remember but that’s close enough to get an idea).  She nicely picked the beets and our assortment had some amazingly large beets.

My family likes beets.  In the beginning, I used to pickle them just to get my family to eat them.  Then one day I made them into a dish similar to mashed potatoes.  I’m not sure how I was successful in making a smooth creamy dish but it’s not one I have a lot of success replicating.  Beets are dense roots so getting them soft enough to mash has been a challenge.

However, I think I have figured out my problem.  Beets require time.  You have to boil the heck out of them and it still takes awhile to get them mushy.  More often than not, I stop at tender.  This gives me the best chance to do whatever I like with them.

Let’s take a step back to the whole beet and go from there.  I can’t imagine you will have the same amount as I did yesterday but in case you do – work with 5-7 pounds at a time.  That will most likely fill your pot.

Always start with giving your beet a good washing.  Rub the end where all the roots are to loosen any dirt stuck there and rinse, rinse, rinse.  I like to set my washed beets in a large colander over a large bowl – you can do that or just set them in a bowl.  Once your bowl is heavy or all your beets are washed – it’s time to start the processing.

There is a little waste which my worms happily get but it’s not much.  Trim the top of your beets about an inch from the top of the root.  Don’t trim the root.  Beets bleed but you can actually cook out the lovely red color, leaving a dingy grey root (so I have heard because I don’t trim beyond the bit of stem).  Don’t peel either.  Layer the roots in a large stock pot, cover with water and bring to a boil.  I like to put a lid on at a bit of an angle.  This reduces splattering because no matter what you are going to end up with red water.

While the roots are cooking, turn to the stems and leaves.  You made sure to wash them well when you washed the roots, right?  I knew you did.  Compost any dried out, overly yellowed leaves.  If they look bad, you’re not going to be open to eating them.  You want bright green leaves and firm red stems.

Sometimes I remove the leaves from the stems and sometime I leave them one.  I think I prefer to remove the leaves.  I take the leaves and dry them in the dehydrator.  I use the veggie setting not the herb setting.  It’s a higher heat but I want something really dry.

What I do with the dried leaves is crumble them up and add them to what I call my soup mix jar.  This is a combination of odds and ends leaves that I have dried – kale, swiss chard, beets, nettles.  I can add anything I want and have been debating about adding things like parsley and dried veggies.  At this moment, it’s just the leaves.  You could add mustard and collard greens as well.  The idea is that when I make soup, I toss in a handful.  The greens are not my favorite thing to eat but they add a nice earthy flavor to soups and lots of added nutrients.

If you don’t want to dry the leaves, feel free to saute them in a bit of butter or bacon grease.  They are just like any other green.  They taste a bit of beets and green.

Since I have separated the stems from the leaves (the stems don’t dry as nicely).  I have to come up with a plan for them.  I have been debating whether or not I should try pickling some in the same pickling brine I use for my beets.  It would give me a jar or two to enjoy later.  I could add them to stirfry or soups.  Even freeze to add to dishes through the winter.  They add a beet/green flavor that’s rather nice.

So by now, all the tops have been processed and the beets themselves are ready for attention.  Don’t drain your water.  Use a large slotted spoon and remove the beets from the pot.  If you are only part way through your stash of beets, then re-use the water , if not then let it sit until it’s cold.  The water is a great treat for plants.  Our pot from this weekend went to water our struggling garden.  It’s a boost to help the remaining plants produce their final amount before we lose them all to frost later.

I like to wear latex gloves to process beets.  It helps to keep the purple from staining your hands.  It’s amazing how long it takes for that dirty nail look to go away after working with beets.  The cooked and cooled beets will slip right out of their skin taking that little bit of leftover stem.  Trip the bottom taper if you desire (it is a little fibrous but maybe next year I’ll come up with a way to use them as well).

Once peeled, the beets are ready for whatever you like.  If they are super soft then you can mash them with heated milk (or reheat the mashed beets) and melted butter.  Or you can slice them up real thin and deep fry them into chips.  You can try baking them as chips.  Slice them and fry them up like country potatoes.  Slice or cube them and bag them up for the freezer (this is what I am doing this time).  You’ll have them all winter long.

Pickle them or pressure can them.  Serve them with dinner.  I often like them with a little butter and citrus pepper.  Beets are awesome but they are a bit of an acquired taste.  They can be really sweet, like candy but earthy.  It’s that earthy flavor that puts most people off of beets.  Learning what style of preparation appeals to you most is part of the fun.

One little tip – pickled beets are better when warmed.  I don’t know why anyone serves them chilled, it makes the vinegar far too powerful but warm, they are so tasty.  Sour cream is a great condiment for beets.

One other idea – throw beets in a stew with heavily peppered beef and tomatoes (carrots, celery, onions are a given).  Top the mess with sour cream and you have a hearty, creamy winter dish that keeps you warm.