While roasting yields flavorful results, steaming beets makes their skin easier to peel off and makes them tender and more pleasant to eat.
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woman peeling beets
Credit: Linda Pugliese

From late spring through fall, beets are one of the easiest ways to add color and nutrition to your plate. Usually deep purple, beets also can be golden, pink, or striped. They have an earthy, slightly bitter taste, and while they can be eaten raw, they are usually cooked, often cooked by roasting. While roasting will certainly yield flavorful results, we're fans of steaming beets.

"Steaming beets softens them, making them tender and more pleasant to eat," says Jess Damuck, food stylist and author of the cookbook Salad Freak! "It enhances their natural sweetness, and allows you to really infuse them with other flavors such as spices or citrus zest." 

Steaming beets also impacts their appearance. "When you steam beets, their flesh becomes glossy and bright," says cooking teacher Ronna Welsh, author of The Nimble Cook. Welsh also notes that steaming keeps the vegetable juicy and easier to peel.

When shopping, look for beets that are fresh, any leaves should be sprightly, not wilted. "The flavor of steamed beets reflects the quality of the beets themselves—steaming doesn't hide any flaws," says Welsh. 

How to Prepare Beets for Steaming 

Like most vegetables, beets should be washed prior to cooking them. "Beets grow underground, and while they are generally washed before they hit the market, you should still rub them well with lukewarm water and a clean sponge," Welsh says. Once washed, Damuck recommends cutting the stems and trimming down any stringy roots prior to steaming. Do not remove the beet skins before steaming, because they will slip off easily after they are steamed, and the skin actually keeps the beet juices inside the root vegetable. Welsh does recommend scoring each end of each beet with an "X" to encourage the peel to pull back as the beet cooks, making the skin easier to remove later. 

How to Steam 

Steaming beets is straightforward:

  1. Place whole beets in a steamer basket above about 2 inches of water.
  2. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and cover.
  3. Once water is boiling, reduce the heat until the water comes to a simmer. "Steam small and medium beets for 30 minutes and large beets for about 50 minutes, until you can pierce the beet to the middle with a knife or skewer," Damuck says.

Tip: If you don't have a steamer, Welsh says to use anything to prop up the beets—including a colander and wire trivet—as long as the beets are resting above the boiling water and you're able to trap the steam it generates. 

How to Steam-Roast Beets

Welsh prefers steam-roasting beets to straightforward steaming. She says this method reaps the benefits of both cooking techniques—steaming softens and keeps the beets moist, while roasting concentrates their flavors. To steam-roast beets:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place eight medium beets, about 3 pounds in weight, in a baking dish where they fit snugly in a single layer. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon kosher salt.
  2. Pour about 1 1/2 inches of water into the dish and cover tightly with foil.
  3. Bake until very tender, about one hour, testing the center of the largest beet with a thin sharp knife to see if it is done.

Once they have cooled, cut beets into your desired shape. Welsh recommends wedges. "In wedges, they are a snackable size," she says. "Plus, from a wedge, you can cut matchsticks or dice when you want."

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