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WHAT'S FRESH : BUYING OPPORTUNITIES : Can't Beat Beets : The bright red, ball-shaped root's lower price is especially attractive just now.

May 31, 1990|PEGGY Y. LEE

It's commonly mislabeled a vegetable and often sweet enough to pass for a fruit. It makes a pretty garnish, can be used in sauces and adds a nice touch to a salad.

Red beets, those ball-shaped roots that are so versatile for cooks, are available year-round, but spring and summer are the best seasons to buy them at lower prices, said Tony Bustillos, sales representative for Seaboard Produce Distributors in Oxnard.

Ideally red beets should be 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter, Bustillos said. They should have smooth skin and five to seven leaves with a medium green color and red veins in the leaves.

Beet leaves, Bustillos said, are a good source of vitamins A and C.

Beets in storage require high humidity and keep best at about 32 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit, Bustillos said. They can last up to six weeks, but for optimal flavor he recommends eating them within two weeks of purchase.

To grow them, "you've got to have the right soil," said Steve Hollister, general manager at Seaboard. The best is loam--a mixture of clay and sandy soil. "Most beets," he said, "are grown in the coastal area."

Another crop that flourishes near the coast is the orange, said Lyle Carson, of Carson Farm Supply in Ojai. "Valencias are really getting into their prime now," he said. They will be available through summer, Carson said, but currently prices for Valencias are very good.

Also available locally are blue lake beans, a small, tender string bean that will be around through July, said Robbie Nichols, manager of Central Market in Camarillo. "You pay a bit more for the smaller beans than big beans," she said "but they taste better."

Organic honey--produced by bees that extract nectar from the blossoms of organically raised fruits--is now available, said Sharon Lee, co-owner of Rancho Arnaz in Ventura. Organic honey is available from orange, apple and avocado plants. Organic honeycombs and honey with bee pollen and propolis also can be purchased.

Those looking for some interesting new products may want to try oat bran ribbon pasta from eastern Los Angeles County. The pasta is made of 51% oat bran, said Mike Somers, manager of Trader Joe's in Ventura. Also available is pesto spice pasta, which is made from enriched wheat flour, basil, garlic and other spices. "Usually, flavored pastas are very expensive,' Somers said, but both the pastas he spoke of are currently a good value.

Nut lovers who normally favor Hawaiian macadamia nuts will want to taste Australian macadamia nuts, which are bigger than the Hawaiian variety, Somers said. They are available raw, dry-roasted and salted.

A good local catch this week is mako, a shark from the Channel Islands, said Ed Lusk, co-owner of Cal Pacifica in Ventura. Also available is thresher shark from Santa Barbara, which can be bought at a good price, Lusk said. Shark, he said, is "very similar in texture and taste to swordfish."

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