Before you even get to dessert, you can serve the object of your affection a really sweet Valentine's dish that is as rich as its deep red color. Just think beets.

Beets are exceptionally high in natural sugar (up to 8 percent of their weight), and their sweetness increases with oven roasting. When foods with natural sugars, like beets and other root vegetables, are roasted, a chemical process occurs which produces a rich, even sweeter flavor.

Beets will never be confused with candy, but they'll do a great deal more for your well-being. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, root vegetables contain natural substances, called phytochemicals, that fight cancer and help strengthen resistance against other health problems. Root veggies contain antioxidants that help fight free radicals, the damaging forms of oxygen that attack cells. Beets are also high in calcium and dietary fiber.

The firm, round beet has a leafy green top that is also edible and very nutritious. Although beets are commonly thought of as red, they can also range in color from deep orange and yellow to white. They are available year-round, but their peak months are in fall and winter, after the first frost has arrived.

Choose beets that are smooth and firm, with a bright color. Small or medium beets are usually more tender than large ones. If the beet greens are attached, they should be removed as soon as possible, because they draw moisture away from the beet. Leave about one inch of the stem to prevent losing nutrients and color during cooking.

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This recipe uses both beets and their greens, for maximum flavor and nutrition.

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Valentine Beet Salad

Makes 6 servings.

  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 8 beets (about 3 inches round), plus their greens
  • 2 Tbsp. drained capers, chopped
  • 6 Tbsp. reduced-fat feta cheese, crumbled into small pieces

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Leave about 1 inch of top on each beet. Wash beets well, but do not peel, and wrap individually in foil. Place in a single layer in a roasting pan or baking sheet with sides. Roast until tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Remove foil, peel beets while warm and slice thinly. Put beets in a bowl and mix with capers and dressing to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Cut stems off beet greens if still attached and discard. Wash greens and put them, still wet, into a large pot. Cook, stirring, over high heat until just wilted but still bright green, about 4 minutes. Drain greens and squeeze out the extra water. Cool and coarsely chop, then transfer to a medium bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Put beets in the center of a platter and surround with greens. Sprinkle feta cheese on top just before serving. Drizzle with remaining dressing, if desired.

Nutritional Info Per Serving:
125 calories,
8 g. total fat (2 g. saturated fat),
11 g. carbohydrate,
4 g. protein,
3 g. dietary fiber,
292 mg. sodium

Diabetic Exchanges:
2 Vegetable, 1-1/2 Medium-Fat Meat


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