by Susan Manfull

I was in the Lourmarin market one Friday many Junes ago when I first noticed them. There, in the midst of the gloriously fresh produce—the bright green clusters of lettuce leaves, the plump red tomatoes, the huge heads of perfectly formed cauliflower, and an impressive pyramid of dazzling green cucumbers—were these dark purple bulbous things. The misshapen balls, each encased in what looked like a very thin and slightly shriveled leathery skin, appeared dense and heavy. The outside covering had wrinkled up just a wee bit on a couple of the balls to reveal a very pretty, glossy purple color, reminiscent of beets.

I made my way over to the unremarkable white bin where they rested and saw that each one was surrounded by the telltale crimson-colored juice of a beet. The sign read “Betteraves Cuites.” Cooked beets. I can no longer recall the price but it didn’t matter. I had to buy a cooked beet.

That was the start of my love affair with the cooked beets that one may buy in French markets. I love beets but they require a hot oven and a long time to cook. Yes, I know that you grate raw beets for immediate consumption and that their antioxidant powers are greater when raw, but I fancy them cooked, thinly sliced, and topped with a dab…
of chêvre on a bed of greens (preferably mâche).

The idea that I could buy cooked beets in June, the start of their peak season (that runs through October), a season that coincides with the hottest months of the year, was, as they say in France, formidable. I love beets.

People fall into two distinct groups when it comes to eating beets: they either love them or hate them. I suspect that those who fall into the latter group harbor distasteful memories of early childhood experiences with canned beets, undoubtedly the most common preparation in the U.S. (As much as 95% of the beets grown in the U.S. end up in cans.) Let’s face it: when it takes at least an hour to cook a vegetable, chances are most people will reach for the can.

And therein lies the etiology of the common beet aversion: a texture issue. Beets that find their way onto your plate via a Del Monte can, a familiar brand in my family’s kitchen cupboard, suffer from a chewy and slimy feel in your mouth. Taste, however appealing, has the difficult task of overcoming feel and the ante is certainly raised when the dominant taste is, well, “earthy.” Beets hardly have a chance!


Not surprisingly, beets have the distinction of being at the top of a New York Times list entitled “The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating.” It’s a tough battle for a beet. Before they succumb to the can—in their fresh state, that is—beets are arguably not very appealing in the appearance department. They are sometimes dirty—they are roots, after all—and they have what could pass for strands of hair coming out of one end and pink stalks with dull-colored greens protruding out of the other end. It is not a coincidence, beet-haters may argue, that beets belong to the botanical species Beta vulgaris?

Those in the beet-hater group—a large group that includes President Obama—also object to the brilliant magenta color of beets that, they say, invades every other food on the plate. I think that is primarily a canned beet problem, but admittedly, peeling and slicing a cooked beet is not a clandestine affair.

That beautiful magenta color is also related to a side effect that many people experience from eating beets. It is rather delicate subject but one that may cause alarm in people who are caught unaware. The group of pigments responsible for the bright crimson color, betacyanin, is difficult for many people to metabolize, leading the purplish-red pigments to pass straight through the urine and feces of these nonmetabolizers. The upshot is waste products with a red tinge to them, a disconcerting experience if one does not know the cause. This is a genetically determined trait that is perfectly harmless, but that news probably doesn’t help the beleaguered beet.

Beets, god bless them, have been around a long time: since antiquity, as they say.  Back then, only the greens were eaten and the root—apparently even more misshapen—was reserved for medicinal purposes. There is some evidence that the Romans cultivated them for their roots—remember who lived in Provence 2000 years ago—but the more rounded roots familiar to us today did not develop until around the 16th century and it was not until around the 19th century that beets really began to appear on one’s plate.

Today, beets seem to be enjoying increased popularity in the U.S.  Nutritionists are promoting their value as a powerhouse of folic acid, calcium and iron; as being hugely beneficial for their antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties; as a great source of fiber; and even good for weight loss. High-end restaurants seem to have discovered beets, too.

In France, they have always had an impressive following. My favorite market vendor in Lourmarin (now retired) explained that during WWII when energy had to be conserved, beets were roasted in bulk for practical reasons and, then, sold to the public. Having cooked-beets readily available proved so convenient that, after the war, the public demand remained high and the practice continued. Today, in addition to finding cooked beets in every market in Provence, they also can be found in most grocery stores, cooked and in vacuum-sealed bags.

In nearly every café and bistro, as well as many gastronomic restaurants, in Provence, a beet and chêvre salad can be found on the menu. Since this is my favorite way to enjoy beets, I am happy.

Until the U.S. sees the wisdom of selling cooked beets (outside of a can), I cook my own. I usually just cut off the greens—always decline the grocer’s offer to cut of the greens—and save them for my salad; scrub the roots and pat them dry; rub them with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and your favorite herbs; wrap in heavy foil; and toss in a 375 degree oven for about 45 – 60 minutes. (Don’t cut or peel them as their gorgeous red color will seep out, leaving dull brown beets!)

The roasting-in-foil approach is easy and works just fine. However, recently, we tried roasting a beet in a mound of salt. The result was divine. Use your imagination here. For example, add herbs, horse radish, blood red orange vinegar to the salt mixture. The beet that emerges from the crust of salt will be perfectly cooked and devoid of any of those aforementioned texture issues.



Our salad of beets–mixed greens, including beet greens but, sadly, no mâchechêvre, and walnuts with a simple vinaigrette was terrific.

David, editor of Cocoa and Lavender, will feature a recipe for beet risotto, “Seared Tilapia on Beet Risotto with Citrus Beurre Blanc” in his June 16th post. I know this will be outstanding and I can’t wait to read it. In the mean time, I would love to know your favorite beet recipes.

And, when in France, do look for betteraves cuites! You won’t be disappointed!



  1. i am going to get some today at my local farm which is still growing their own. great to know that just heavy foil and roasted for an hour. am going to do that. plus i always serve with chevre — it so works! may have to make this for lunch on a bed of fresh arugula ! thanks for the beet info. super blog! GG

  2. I am about to hit the farmers market so beets might just jump into my basket! What a great post – I had no idea beats were so popular in France! Another tip for the greens – sauté them with some shallots and golden raisins, a recipe I use for chard. Quite a wonderful combination! ~ David

  3. As a beet lover married to a beet hater was delighted to get your info on cooked beets. The salad sounds divine! We have noticed that when travelling in France it seems that the Amuse Bouche served in restaurants seems to follow a formula for that year and one year it was beets in many different disguises. Have you ever had a beet mousse? Beet hating husband lived through it but it didn't quite change his mind.

  4. That was a GREAT story and pictures to pay tribute to the "Ugly gnarled" beets lying in the produce bin anxiously awaiting for the Princess to choose them for her Royale Party. Alas and alack, it is now broccoli that is the chosen one and is the king of vegetables.

    Beets were a staple in our family. We had them hot and buttered the first night and sliced and cold with sliced red onions dressed oil vinegar the second night.

    Your story reminded me of how beets were once the end me. It was close to my wedding day when I discovered that, sadly, like so many heroines in those days (Cathy of Wuthering Heights) and I were doomed to die young. I knew that because I had noticed the tell tale "blood" and knew that, like Cathy and Heathcliff, I would die before my wedding. As I prepared my mother for my departure, she laughed and reminded me of what we had eaten for dinner the night before. It might have been funny if I hadn't spent so much time writing my Obit !!

  5. Life-long beet-hater here. BUT your pictures and narrative are mouth-watering. Served with chevres, walnuts and vinegrette has even my mouth watering. I still have trouble shaking the taste of dirt and metal of canned beets, but I'm getting over it. Love them in winter roasted in the bottom of the turkey roasting pan, with chunks of carrot, potato, Brussels sprouts, favoring gold beets, with only one red one thrown in. Luscious with fat and the ruby stains on the other vegetables are gorgeous as stained glass. But June is no time to think of that… except among our friends south of the equator.

  6. Tastes "earthy"? Did you mean like "dirt"? Another life-long beet-hater here. I know I should work them in to my diet, but, THAT would be work! I welcome any advice! Still, a nice post.

  7. Susan: Your "beet" posting strikes a chord. Whenever I've had a vegetable garden here on Long Island I've grown beets and appreciate how good they are freshly dug. I come from a country that has traditionally appreciated the beet (actually "beetroot" in the English-speaking world outside North America). My 88-year old brother in England is still growing beets and cooking them in the way we did when we were growing up – one of the few treats he can still offer me when I visit. I confess I've never in my life roasted a beet – our preferred method of preparatiom is boiling. Boil without removing the thin root portion, and leave about 3 or 4 inches of stalk attached, otherwise color intensity will be lost. When you can rub off the skin with your thumb they're done – about 30 to 45 minutes according to size. Cool, cut of the thin root end and the stalks, rub off the skin, slice and add salt, pepper, a little sugar, and malt or balsamic vinegar.
    Australia is the ultimate heaven for beet eaters. Sliced beets come with everything. You want a corned beef sandwich – it comes with beets. You want a turkey sandwich – it comes with beets. You want a cheese sandwich – it comes with beets. You don't ask – it just comes that way, rather as in this country pickles will come with a pastrami sandwich.
    And Susan, I can from experience endorse your warning – don't have beets for a couple days before any sort of medical examination.
    One final tip – add a beet if you want pink mashed potatoes.

  8. When we were in Lourmarin recently, we ate lunch at the Auberge des Sequins. They presented, on a white square plate, about 8 perfect little servings of various yummies. My favorite was a mousse of roasted betteraves. If you can ever coax the recipe out of them, please let me know! All I know is it involved pureed beets and creme fraiche. Merveilleuse!!!

  9. Hi Susan,

    Have to admit have only had beets from a can. Never knew all the health benefits. Am going to try roasted beets, that is something I can do, thanks for the fun lesson and info.

  10. Dear Susan,
    You have really hit the jackpot here! This is, second only to the crusty ficelle, the reason I fly each year to France…and I will tell you that as a first course, either hot or cold ( I prefer hot) I barely steam the greens in butter and plop the sliced roasted beets with a soupçon of vinegar and tiny sprinkling of raw sugar and some butter on the top of the mound of wilted greens…life does not get better!
    Sent from my iPad

  11. Hi GG,
    It's as if those three ingredients were made for one another! I hope your salad was terrific! Thanks for your kind words, too!

  12. Ah, the greens–they really don't get enough attention, do they? With shallots and golden raisins, they sound wonderful–and pretty!

    Your recipe for Seared Tilapia with Beet Risotto and Citrus Beurre Blanc is mouthwatering!


  13. Hi Ginny,
    So funny to read about couples of beet lovers and beet haters! Make sure to read Cocoa and Lavender this week for another funny story of a beet hater and a beet lover who live together! And, David features a wonderful recipe that convinced his partner to eat beets!

    I have not had a beet mousse. Another reader (see below) wrote about beet mousse. I will have to make some!

    Good to hear from you and thanks for writing!


  14. Hot buttered beets! Sounds delicious! About ugly gnarled beets, at the Farmer's Market in Carlsbad, California yesterday, I saw the biggest and gnarliest beets I've ever laid eyes on. They would take a mighty long time to roast!

    Regarding the red colored "waste products," that can be frightening. To discover this before your wedding date must have been particularly unnerving. It's a funny story now though! Thanks for sharing it!

    Best regards,

  15. Sounds like you will not be able to call yourself a life-long beet-hater for long! I agree that the gold beets are particularly appealing — I know they should taste the same, but they seem a little milder to me, which is sometimes nice! They do marry very nicely with turkey–your description makes me yearn for my favorite holiday.

    Thanks so much for your comment!

  16. I received many emails, some directly and some posted here, from people who used the word "dirt" to describe beets. You are not alone! Maybe in juice form? Read below!

    Thanks and good luck!

  17. Hi Lillian,
    Do try roasting them! After you scrub them and dress them the way you like to, just wrap them up in foil, throw them in the oven, and forget about them….until their sweet fragrance reminds you that a wonderful meal is coming soon!

    Thanks so much for your comment!


  18. Hi Brian,
    You have convinced me that I should try boiling them! Maybe when you come to visit, you will cook them as you andyour brother do!

    We have a lot of readers from Austrailia…maybe they will chime in on their country's love of beets. I think a slice of beet on a turkey burger sounds particularly good!

    And pink mashed potatoes! I've got to try that for valentine's Day!


  19. Hi Kirsten,
    Auberge des Seguins–one of our favorite restaurants! I have not had their roasted beet mousse. I am wondering if Ginny who posted a comment above, went to the same restaurant. I must go there!

    I also want to tell you again about how much I loved your photos of the roses in Lourmarin! TMT readers who want to see them can go to Kirsten's blog, La Dolce Vita: Living the Good Life in California's Mediterranean Climate.

    Thanks for your comment!



  20. Susan – Kirsten just let me know about the mousse aux betteraves she had in Lourmarin! We definitely *need* to figure out how to make this! I will start researching now! ~David

  21. David,
    Ah, wonderful. If anyone can get to the root (pun intended!) of this mousse, I know you will. Towny was going to call Auberge des Seguins, but I dont think he has. You can simply recreate it on your own! Looking forward to hearing more!

  22. Hi Lin,

    Wilted greens topped with beets dressed with a wee bit of vinegar and raw sugar and butter AND a piece of ficelle….sounds great!

    Really good to hear from you! Hope to meet again at Cafe Gaby!

    Warm regards,

  23. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for the beet info. Just so happens that I had some (yellow and red) roasting in the oven as I read this.

    Also beets are very healing to the liver. My brother had cirrosis of the liver and extreme hepititus. The doctors told him over 30 years ago he would only have 6 mo. to live. He starting juicing raw beets daily and healed his liver. He still juices them periodically now.

    Well I can't wait to come to Provence in Sept. and I will definately look for the beets!


  24. Hi!
    Thanks so much for this interesting information about the health benefits of beets. I have never had beet juice but am inspired to make some now!

    What a coincidence that you were roasting beets when the blog on beets arrived in your mailbox! I hope they were good.

    Let us know how you enjoyed the cooked beets in the French markets!

    Thanks so much for writing.

    Warm regards,

  25. I'm so glad you explained these lumpy beets-disguised-as-fungus to me. I'm eating one now and it's amazing. I'm in southern France now and honestly thought it was a type of mushroom the first time I saw one in the produce isle!

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