Beets can be a lovely side dish with the right preparation. Credit: Sandy Oliver

While good old familiar corn, peas, carrots and tomatoes fly off the grocery store shelf these days, beets seem to sit a little longer, forlornly waiting for a customer. It is too bad. Beets are a wonderful vegetable. Here are two of my favorite ways to fix them.

Beets served in a sweet and sour sauce are tasty, a little old fashioned and a good way to use the canned beets buried in your pantry, rescued from the store, or maybe you grow them and still have some in storage from last year’s garden. Also known as Harvard beets because, I suppose, of the crimson color, they are very easy to knock together as a vegetable side dish and are susceptible to various tinkerings to jazz up the flavor. For example, add onion, chopped shallot or a spoon of grated horseradish to the sauce just before you add the beets.

Another method is to drain canned beets, or use boiled ones, put them in a shallow oven-proof dish, and make a blue cheese butter to pour melted over the top. A few minutes in the oven and the dish is sophisticated and delicious. You don’t need a recipe. Melt a stick of butter and break three to four tablespoons of blue cheese into it, dribble over sliced beets and run under the broiler on low for a few moments.

I love beets. The main problem with them is with what to serve them.

I own up to a prejudice about beets, preferring them with chicken, beef or pork, and definitely not with any dish with Mediterranean origins. I like beets in salad as long as there isn’t any tomato in it, too. I wish that I could honestly say that I like borscht, the famous Russian beet soup. I like them cold with cucumbers and vinaigrette or chopped with onion and mayonnaise. They are terrific in a mix of roasted vegetables or in a New England Boiled Dinner, as long as you cook them separately so they don’t turn everything purple.

At the end of the growing season, I pickle all the little guys and cellar the rest.

While stores sell carrots in giant bagfuls, I think there is an extremely long shot we’ll ever pick up beets in those quantities. Still, lowly wholesome beets (lots of iron and even more manganese, in case you were missing some) really can brighten up the dinner table. Just don’t serve them with spaghetti.

Sweet and Sour Beets

Serves 4

½ cup sugar

1½ teaspoons cornstarch

¼ cup vinegar

¼ cup water

2 cups sliced beets

1. Chopped onion or grated horseradish, optional

2. Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan.

3. Stir in the vinegar and water and bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is glossy.

4. Add the beets and stir gently until the beets are covered, warm through over a low temperature.

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Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...