The cool, wet weather this spring made beets very happy. You can use the leaves, stems and roots in all sorts of ways. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Beets, like me, happily exist when the days are warmish (60-70 degrees) and nights are quite cool (50-60 degrees). Given that the coastal Maine weather throughout June has, for the most part, stayed within this comfort zone, I, like the many beets being grown here, have been quite content.

But farmer friends tell me that many other crops – beets and hearty greens excepted – are growing more slowly than usual because of the unseasonably cool, very damp weather. The rain has led to some denitrification, which results in less nitrate in the soil, natural chemicals the plants need to grow.

As I write this, we are all waiting patiently for the weather to warm up, dry out slightly, and spur on the growth of summertime delights like sun-ripened tomatoes, red hot chili peppers and plump purple eggplants. In the meantime, I’m here to give you a few root-to-leaf ideas for all the red and golden beets making their way to market.

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s market report, a tool in which farmers across the state self-report the prices they’re charging for their fruits and vegetables, says that beets sold in June cost, on average, $4.20 a pound. Generally, there are five small or three medium beets to a pound. Most beets grown in the spring are on the smaller size and are sold with their stalks and greens attached.

The first thing to do once the spring beets arrive in your kitchen is to separate the leaves from the roots. If left attached, the leaves will try to draw the moisture out of the root, which will render the beets dry and the leaves wilted after a day or two. I also relieve the leaves of their long, elegant stems. I wash each, now separate, product differently. Scrub the beets themselves; I use a coconut husk scouring pad. Rinse off the stems and wrap them in a towel to store. I chop them like celery to add to salads or sauté them slowly like chard stems for a savory crostini topping or base for a pasta sauce. Tear, wash, dry and store the leaves in a second towel for up to a week, using them in salads as you would kale, or cooking them like spinach.

Use spring beets to make a healthful beet-cucumber juice spritzer. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Because spring beets are juicier than the fall ones that are stored (leafless) for sale all winter long, they are a good option for juicing. I combine three roughly chopped raw beets in my high-powered blender with a large cucumber (also roughly chopped), a sliced apple, a small bunch of parsley, a whole lemon and a 1-inch knob of fresh ginger. Once you drain the juice through a fine-mesh sieve (use the pulp left behind to add to chocolate cake), you get a generous cup of tangy juice that will last for a week in your fridge. It’s a healthy, antioxidant-filled elixir drunk straight, and it makes an interesting mocktail when mixed with sparkling water. Adding vodka or gin turns it into a colorful cocktail.


More often, though, I grate the unpeeled raw beets in a food processor. This is less dangerous that trying to slice them very thinly on a mandolin and less tiresome – not to mention it won’t stain your fingers pink. This method yields a bowlful of raw beets that can sit in the fridge in an airtight container for 4-5 days and that can be sprinkled into salads, quick pickled to top grilled sausages, or combined with shredded sweet potatoes to make these beet burgers, an excellent vegetarian option at your next barbecue.

Beets are abundant this spring. Try them in a Beet, Sweet Potato and Feta Burger. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Beet, Sweet Potato and Feta Burgers

These burgers can be cooked, cooled and frozen for future use. It’s best to warm them up gently in a 300-degree oven, or if you are serving them at a barbecue, set atop a piece of tin foil on the grill.

Makes six (4-ounce) patties

1½ cups grated raw beets
1 cup grated raw sweet potato
1 to 1½ cups breadcrumbs
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon grated garlic
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
Vegetable oil
Toasted brioche burger buns
Small, washed beet greens
Tzatziki sauce, for serving

In a large bowl thoroughly combine the grated beets and sweet potato, 1 cup breadcrumbs, feta, eggs, herbs, tahini, salt, black pepper, garlic, smoked paprika, lemon zest and Aleppo pepper. The mixture should be slightly sticky, allowing you to make patties. If the mixture is too wet, add another 1/2 cup breadcrumbs.


Form the mixture into six (four-ounce) patties, about 3/4 inch thick and 4 inches in diameter. You can cook these right away, but it’s best to let them set in the refrigerator for an hour or two before cooking.

To cook the burgers, place a large frying pan over a medium-low heat. Pour a scant 1/4-inch oil into the pan. Once the oil is warm, cook the burgers for around 5 minutes per side or until cooked through and golden brown on the outside. Transfer the burgers to a flattened paper bag to release some excess oil.

To assemble the burgers, pile a few beet greens on the toasted bottom of a bun. Place a cooked burger on the greens. Add a dollop of tzatziki sauce and top with the other half of the bun. Repeat the process for the remaining burgers. Serve warm.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the former editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at:

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