What we call ‘beets’ on this continent are varieties of Beta vulgaris bred for their taproots. Initially, however, the species was domesticated in the ancient Middle East for its leaves. Chards are also varieties of Beta vulgaris and they are still grown primarily for their leaves. By the Roman era, however, some varieties were being selected and grown for their roots. It’s worth noting that even the varieties grown for their roots have perfectly edible leaves. In fact, where I grew up in Nova Scotia, a lot of beets were harvested for their leaves long before the plants developed roots worth eating.
Beetroots are a nutritional powerhouse. In addition to lots of fiber, minerals, and vitamins, they are high in several compounds such as betanin that reduce inflammations, lower blood pressure, and increase your energy and capacity for physical exercise.
SEASON: late May through July for fresh beets with tops; beets with the tops removed store very well and may be available at other times of the year
RECIPES: I love beets. I could happily make a dinner out of nothing but a pound or two of roasted beets and a bit of butter. Erin, on the other hand, does not love beets, since she is one of the people who thinks they taste like dirt. There is a reason for that assessment: beets are high in geosmin, which is the same compound that gives rise to the distinctive smell of rain falling on dry rocks and soil after a dry spell. Anyway, after we got married, I made it a mission of mine to find beet recipes that Erin would like despite not in general liking beets. There were more failures than successes, but, more importantly, there were some successes. They are marked with asterisks below.