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The Beet Goes On 

Whether you call it blood turnip or Beta vulgaris, no one is ambivalent about beetroot. It's either treated as the ruby in Mother Nature's jewelry box and treasured appropriately, or lumped in with rutabaga and cast off to that misunderstood-veggie compost in the sky. Two potential sources of blame: picklers and Polish grandparents. The former robbed beets of their deep, earthy flavor and al dente texture (though no one holds the cucumber accountable for sodden gherkins); the latter too often dissolved them into icy, flavorless baths of radioactive-pink borscht. But the beet deserves better than a neglected bin at the end of the Rouses salad bar. A relative of amaranth, it shares that grain's rich history in agricultural production, with cultivation dating back to the second millennium B.C. The sugar beet is second only to sugarcane as a natural source of sucrose, and beets' crimson-colored, betanin-rich juice — which does double duty as a blood-pressure attenuator and an aphrodisiac — is nature's No. 1 alternative to FD&C Red No. 40. They're also heaven on the tongue when roasted: cubed, strewn with red onion and served alongside stewed beet greens; or sliced carpaccio-thin and covered with satsuma segments. If that's all too time-consuming, just stop by Nur Pendaz's and Amanda Carvajal's booths at the Crescent City Farmers Market. Their succulent roasted beets and refreshing beet lemonade, respectively, will make even the most hardened third-generation Pole a believer. — Noah Bonaparte Pais

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