Good ol' Beta vulgarus. Either you love them or you hate them. These root vegetables are comparatively new in culinary history, though they were used in prehistory for medicinal purposes. Although the first written evidence of beets being consumed by humans dates from Third Century Rome, some of the earliest recipes we have come from the English from around 1390. They originally grew in Europe and North Africa, but now they are grown in lots of other places. One source said that the name "beet" refers to the resemblance of the seed pods to the Greek letter beta -- β. I don't see it, but you might.

The whole plant is edible. Did you know it was related to chard and spinach? Thanks, wertperch! Many Americans -- and by that I mean the WASP American, which is the group I am most familiar with -- know of the beet from the canned variety. Many of these same Americans, myself included, find canned beets monstrously nasty to eat. I thought this was the plant's fault until recently when I discovered a recipe that knocked me out. More on that later. The root is what most people associate with eating beets (see beetroot.) The root is prepared in many of the same ways other root vegetables like turnips are. But the leaves are also edible. Prepared like one would prepare other greens -- sauteed, boiled, or in a salad -- they are quite tasty.

Fried beets:

4 - 6 beets
4 tablespoons of butter
salt and pepper
Cut leaves off top of beet roots. Set them aside for later. Arrange the beets on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Roast in a 400° oven for about half an hour. This gets the copious amount of natural sugars started on their journey of caramelization. Remove beet roots from the oven and let cool. Peel the beets and slice them in quarter-inch slices. Fry the slices in a buttered skillet for 15-20 minutes, or until well browned. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot. Serves 2-4 people.

Nutritionally speaking, beets are great sources of fiber, calcium, and vitamins. Also important, they are packed with cancer-fighting and health-promoting phytochemicals and antioxidants. Among these is the deep red pigment found throughout the whole plant, actually a flavenoid, that has one amusing side effect. It turns your urine and feces red. Depending on how much you eat, it can range from a faint orange to a deep magenta red. Don't worry. You aren't dying. You just ate a bunch of beets! This same pigment stains your utensils, clothes, other foods on your plate, and the containers you store the stuff in. Beet juice washes out of most things but be careful.

Sauteed Beet Greens and Blackeyed Peas:

leafy tops from 4 - 6 beets, chopped
3 tablespoons, olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 can, blackeyed peas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons, lemon juice
Place oil and garlic in a cold skillet and raise the heat to medium high. Once the heat comes up a tad, add the chopped greens. Sautee for 5 minutes but do not let the leaves burn or brown. Stir in the blackeyed peas. Lower heat to medium and let the mixture simmer for 2 minutes or so. Stir in 1/4 cup of water and cover. Let everything simmer for 6 or 7 minutes. One or two minutes before the end of that time, stir in the lemon juice. Serve it hot!