Beets add color to daily fare

Whenever I start feeling bored with the typical foodcolor spectrum of green and yellow vegetables, I realize it's time to include a splash of red on the dinner plate in the form of one of my favorite vegetables, beets.

Their ready availability in either canned or fresh form makes beets an economical menu-brightener, and their versatility allows their addition to almost any menu.

For the soup enthusiast, especially on hot summer evenings, or as an alternative to the typical salad course, I enjoy serving beets in a light borsch. On the other hand, meat and potato fanciers may enjoy including a cup of chopped beets in their favorite beef hash recipe, thus creating the patchwork effect of Red Flannel Hash. The true beet lover, however, never tires of the old standby, Harvard Beets.

Those who prefer to buy their vegetables fresh should watch for beets whose leaves, which are also edible, look fresh, with the beets themselves firm, smooth, and deep red in color.

To prepare, cut off all but two inches of the stems, wash, and leave whole with roots attached. Fill a pot with enough water to cover the beets; add a tablespoon of vinegar to preserve the beet color in cooking and a teaspoon of salt. Bring the water to a boil, then add the beets and cook covered until tender, about 35 to 45 minutes for medium-size beets. Drain them and rinse in cold water to loosen the skins. Slip off skin and remove root ends.

Slice, dice, or sliver beets and serve buttered, with salt and pepper, or seasoned to personal taste with dill, basil, or cloves. They can also be tossed with bits of grated orange or lemon peel.

Cold beets in a vinaigrette make a delicious addition to salads. After cooking, chill beets, then toss in a basic vinaigrette of oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and herbs.

My favorite borsch recipe is quite simple and may be prepared early in the day to serve on a hot summer evening without having to heat up the kitchen. Easy Borsch 1 1/4 cup chicken broth (fresh or canned) 1 can (16 ounce) diced or shoestring beets 1 cup shredded cabbage 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion 1 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon lemon juice Sour cream or plain yogurt for garnish

Heat broth, beet liquid, beets, cabbage, onion, and sugar to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

My mother always served Harvard Beets, which I found delicious eaten either hot or cold. Harvard Beets 1 can (16 ounces) sliced or diced beets 1/3 cup vinegar 4 tablespoons sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons margarine 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Remove 2 tablespoons of liquid from beets and reserve. Place remaining liquid and beets in saucepan; add vinegar, sugar, salt, and margarine. Cover and cook until beets are thoroughly heated.

To the reserved 2 tablespoons of beet liquid, add cornstarch and stir to mix well. Stir this into the hot beet mixture and continue cooking until liquid thickens. Beets are ready to serve. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

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