Braised Beets with a Balsamic Glaze Finish
Braised beets are intensely flavorful, easy to prepare and this oil-free vegan stovetop method is great alternative to roasting for the warmer months.
Braising beets brings out the natural sweet flavors and creates its own glaze which is enhanced by balsamic vinegar and a touch of maple at the end of braising. Braised beets are equally good served hot, cold or room temperature.
What is Braising?
Braising is a three step method of cooking where the vegetables are initially caramelized (browned) on a higher heat to develop flavor, cooked in liquid to finish the cooking at a lower heat, then finished by creating a glaze or sauce with the cooked liquid. Once the caramelization is achieved, liquid is added, the heat is reduced and you continue to cook until vegetables become fork tender. In the third step, with the remaining liquid you can create a flavorful sauce or glaze by adding other ingredients like vinegar, then reducing.
This oil-free vegan braising method is particularly becoming to beets because of the natural sugars that develop in the first step which adds so much flavor to the water or other simmering liquid. During the last step of adding balsamic vinegar creates a dressing and makes for a very flavorful final dish. If adding maple too, the coating will become even more like a glaze.
Beets are available year round, but during the warmer months, oven cooking methods heat up the house so much. This stovetop method brings intense flavor without oven roasting, but also a welcome side dish during the colder months too.
Braised Beets Technique in a Nutshell: Caramelize, Simmer, Finish with glaze or sauce
Caramelize: Pre-heat the pan, caramelize (also called brown) the aromatic starter, in this dish it’s the red onion. Follow by caramelizing the vegetable, beets for this dish
Simmer: Add the water or stock, lower the heat and simmer until the beets become fork tender
Finish: Add additional flavorful broth or vinegar to reduce. In this recipe, balsamic and optionally maple syrup is added to create a reduction glaze.
A braising pan is a wide and shallow pan, sloping sides and a somewhat domed lid that fits snuggly to the pan. A skillet with a lid will works well, a glass lid all the better so you can see what’s happening in the pan. The pan bottom should be heavy. A thin metal pan will evaporate the liquid too quick and will be susceptible to burning. Enameled cast iron or tri-clad are both good choices.
The Beets for Braised Beets
Dark red, striped or red beets do well this braised method. The golden beets will sometimes turn slightly grey in parts with the braising method, so not the best choice by themselves for this method but wonderful as when mixing with red beets. When mixed the golden beets pick up the red color and the grey color is not visible and they are sweeter.
Golden beets tend to be the sweetest, the Chioggia (Red on the outside and striped red and white inside) are also sweeter, while the darker red beets have a more earthy taste. So braising with a mix is really quite good.
Aromatic Starters for Braised Beets
In the recipe for this braised beet dish described below I use red onions as the aromatic starter before adding the diced beets. Other aromatic starters that give a nice taste are shallots and ginger.
To use or not use the beet greens
The stalks and greens are wonderful to add into the braised beets. There is some bitterness with greens from darker beets. But they add a nice touch to the dish. You can balance the flavors at the end with a sweetener of your choice. I use the greens and stalks more often than not and add a little maple if there is noticeable bitterness.
If using the greens and stalks, they are added right after the the braising liquid (water) has been added if you like the greens to be soft when done. For a little more al dente greens, add them about 10 minutes after the braising has started.
Water is the perfect choice for the braising liquid for beets as it allows the final liquid to have the pure taste of beets shine through. Vegetable stock is fine too but will add other flavors which can be a really good too. We usually have water on hand, but not always stock. Use boiled water or hot water to keep the temperature more consistent and the cooking smoother (it’s also easier on the pan).
Balsamic Vinegar and Maple Syrup
Adding balsamic vinegar at the end of braising adds and nice note of acidic brightness and slight sweetness. Some beets are more earthy tasting. If you prefer to have the sweetness more forward, a touch a maple syrup will do just that. In addition the vinegar and maple at the end creates a glaze type of dressing to coat the beets.
Tools Used in this Recipe
- Salad Spinner or wash bowl and strainer
- Cutting Board
- Chef Knife
- vegetable peeler
- Braising Pan or skillet with a tight fitting lid
- Wooden spatula or equivalent
- measuring cup
- 1 1/2 lbs beets about 3 medium beets
- beet greens and stalks optional
- 1 small red onion or 1/2 large red onion
- 1 cup Hot water or vegetable stock
- 2 Tbls Balsamic Vinegar
- 1–3 tsps Maple Syrup optional
- To keep your hands clean of the red beet color, wear food safe gloves. Cut off the beet tops (stalks and greens) leaving about 1 inch of stalks.1 1/2 lbs beets
- Wash the beets and leave in a salad spinner bowl with clean water.
- Cut the remainder of the stalks if needed.
- Peel the skin off with a vegetable peeler.
- Place the beet on the flat cut side down. Cut into 1/2-3/4 in slices. Then in the other direction cut in 3/4 in slices to make the diced cubes. Repeat with the other beets.
- If using the stalks and greens, cut the stalks horizontally in 1/4 in slices and the greens in ribbons about 1/2 in wide.beet greens and stalks
- For greens that are really large, cut lengthwise in half.
- Slice the red onion about 1/4 in thick and 1 in long.1 small red onion
- Heat the braising pan to medium with 2 or 3 tablespoons of water. When the water starts to boil (about 3–5 minutes), add the sliced onions (don't let the water evaporate before adding the onions). Stir, then leave to brown a bit, about 3 minutes. Push the onions to the outer edge of the pan to make room for the beets to join the party.1 small red onion
- The beets should be glistening with moisture but not overly wet before adding to the pan. If beets look dry, add a few drops of water to the pan, then add the diced beets to the pan in a single layer. Leave without stirring about 3 minutes to caramelize.1 1/2 lbs beets
- Stir and leave to caramelize further, another 3 minutes
- Once the beets are caramelized, add the hot water or stock (1 cup), put on the lid and reduce the heat to low-medium to simmer. Set timer for 20 minutes.
- Optional Step: If using the greens and stalks, they can be added now or for a more al dente 10–15 minutes after the braising has started.beet greens and stalks
- After 20 minutes, add the balsamic vinegar, stir and leave to simmer 5–10 minutes more or until the beets fork tender (a fork goes easily through the beet).Taste one of the beets to see how sweet or earthy tasting it is. If desired add more balsamic and the optional maple syrup. Stir and allow to heat through.The beets are ready to serve or store in the fridge to serve later.2 Tbls Balsamic Vinegar, 1–3 tsps Maple Syrup