Boiling beets requires little skill and a bit of knowledge. This is a simple guide on how to boil beets on the stovetop the proper way. Cooked correctly, this healthy and nutritious red root vegetable will become an instant hit for making a tasty beet salad, beetroot soup, or delicious hummus.
- Is it better to boil or roast beets?
- Can you peel beets before boiling?
- Why use vinegar, sugar and salt?
- How long to boil beets?
- Ingredients needed and popular substitutes
- Useful equipment for this recipe
- How to make it
- How to use it and what to serve it with
- Frequently asked questions
- Other recipes you might like
- How To Boil Beets
- Nutrition Facts
Is it better to boil or roast beets?
Boiling beets and roasting beets are two very different ways of cooking with two very different outcomes.
If you want to know how to roast beets properly then see my salt roasted beets recipe.
It's one of my favourite ways to cook beets.
Boiled beets have a juicier texture and roasted or baked beets have a drier texture but more concentrated flavour.
In my beetroot salad recipe, I use a combination of the two, but feel free to use either boiled or roasted.
Can you peel beets before boiling?
Don't peel your beets before boiling. The skins are easily removed after.
Keeping the skin on while boiling helps to keep some of the colour, flavour and nutrients from leaching into the water.
It also helps to brighten that sweet earthy flavour beets are so well known for and which makes them such delicious root vegetables.
Why use vinegar, sugar and salt?
This is one of those small but very important steps that separates the pro from the novice.
Good news is that in this recipe it's easy for everyone to be the big boy/girl/person in the kitchen.
By adding vinegar to the cooking water you achieve two things.
- Vinegar helps the red pigments in the beet stay bright red and gives it this deep red-purple hue that makes you want to sink your teeth into it as soon as it's cooked.
- Earthy flavours go very well with vinegary flavours. It's a win-win all around.
Adding sugar and salt to the water helps to keep the sweetness of the beets intact.
This prevents the natural sugars and minerals from leaching into the water while also seasoning it perfectly all the way through.
When you consider small things while cooking they can have a big and beneficial impact on your cooking.
How long to boil beets?
It all depends on the size of the beets and how rapidly you boil them.
It could take anything from 20 minutes to an hour and attempting to boil different sized beets and different times would be ludicrous.
The way we do it in professional kitchen is to insert a tooth pick or tip of a sharp small knife into the beets to check the doneness.
When perfectly cooked, the beets should not be hard or crisp in the centre and the knife or toothpick you used should be able to easily insert and remove from the beets.
If it resists and feels hard or raw, simply cook it a bit longer. Be careful not to over cook it to a point where the beets start loosing texture and turns to mush.
Always simmer beets instead of rapid boiling.
As well as guarding against overcooking it also prevents gentle flavour compounds from boiling away and evaporating into the air.
The same goes for any other ingredients that require extended cooking time in a liquid on the stove.
Ingredients needed and popular substitutes
- Beets - Use any type of beet you can find. Just make sure it's good quality. Some beets are sold with the greens on, some without. Some are red, some are yellow or pink. Beets also come in different sizes which need to be considered as it affects how long to boil them for. Most important of all, make sure the beets are firm, unblemished and do not have any strange odours. They should smell pleasantly earthy at most.
- Liquid - Water is the simplest liquid used to cook beets. But, what if you can use other liquids? In high-end kitchens, we use beetroot juice instead of water. This helps keep the maximum flavour of the beets. The liquid never gets thrown away as it becomes a special reusable seasoned stock for cooking beets. If you don't have a juicer or don't want to juice a ton of beets then use vegetable stock, or any other light flavoured stock instead of plain water.
- Vinegar - Use a mild vinegar like balsamic, red wine, white wine or apple cider. It also helps to consider the colour of the vinegar and the colour of the beets used. For cooking red beets or pink beets, use red wine vinegar or balsamic. For cooking yellow beets, use white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
- Seasoning - For this recipe you only need salt. If you want an extra layer of flavour or using the cooked beets for a specific occasion or cuisine then you can also add some spices and herbs. Whole spices like juniper, peppercorns, star anise, fennel seeds, coriander seeds and allspice berries are popular choices. You can also add herbs like thyme, marjoram, sage, or rosemary.
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Useful equipment for this recipe
Sauce Pan Set
Electronic Kitchen Scales
How to make it
- Wash the beets well under cold running water making sure any dirt gets washed off.
- Place the salt, sugar, vinegar, and water in a pot along with the beets. Make sure the pot is large enough so the beets are comfortably and completely covered with water. As the liquid evaporates you will have to add a bit more if the beets become exposed.
- Simmer the beets just below a rolling boil for about 20 minutes if you are using baby beets or up to 1 hour for large beets. The beets I cooked were medium to large size and took 50 minutes to cook. Test the doneness with a toothpick or sharp knife. The beets are cooked when the toothpick or knife can be inserted without much resistance and comes out easily when removed.
- If you have the time to wait then let the boiled beets cool down in the liquid before simply rubbing off the skins wearing a pair of gloves if you don't want red-stained hands. Otherwise, simply remove the beets from the cooking liquid and rub of the skins under cold running water.
- You can now use the beets in a wide variety of dishes, store for later use, or simply season with a bit of good olive oil, freshly cracked black pepper and a touch of flakey sea salt to enjoy straight away.
How to use it and what to serve it with
Boiled beets can we served simply as I explained above, or you can serve it with some other dishes as a side, as part of a larger feast or prepare something else with it.
As a side dish with the following proteins:
- Juicy oven-baked chicken breast or crispy chicken Kiev with mushroom and garlic butter
- Slow roasted leg of lamb or bacon wrapped pork tenderloin
- Citrus cured salmon gravlax or pan fried salmon fillet
- Chimichurri steak or chocolate barbecue glazed bavette steak
Try the following:
- Roasted romano pepper with mascarpone and anchovy tapenade
- Pea and mint dip with feta
- Moroccan baked eggplant zaalouk
Make a relish by grating the beets with some fresh horseradish, a touch of grain mustard and season with some more sugar, vinegar and salt to taste.
It's a tasty healthy condiment you can use with many dishes especially grilled meats, fish and vegetables.
Frequently asked questions
Once the beets are boiled, cleaned and cooled down, simply store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Freezing is not recommended, as the water crystals that form during freezing damages the texture.
Sealed airtight they will last for up to 7 days in the fridge.
Never throw away beet greens. They are super nutritious and delicious.
Steam the leaves like you would steam spinach.
If you have baby beets use the leaves in a fresh salad.
Other recipes you might like
If you would like to know more about cooking vegetables properly or bringing the best out of them, then you will find the following recipes useful.
- Ukrainian beetroot soup
- Honey roasted carrots
- Michelin star mashed potatoes
- 8 ways to cook broccoli
- Real steakhouse creamed spinach
- 4 healthy and easy sides for a barbecue
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