Beetroot is not the prettiest of vegetables in the box but once cooked their jewel-like colours reveal themselves. Beet leaves, or Chard, have been eaten for thousands of years. The roots of specialized varieties were valued in ancient Greece. Initially, the roots were either red or white and grew long and tapered. German gardeners are credited with developing the roots in the Middle Ages but it wasn’t until the 16th century that we saw depictions of fat, round red varieties. Today we commonly see pink, red, yellow and orange Beetroots. They all have an earthy flavour and their relatively high natural sugar content (around 3%) is why beetroots lend themselves to being paired with chocolate in cakes. They are a good source of folic acid, fibre, manganese and potassium. The leaves are high in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C and can be eaten raw if small or cooked liked spinach or chard.
Depending on type and size, Beetroot can take 45 minutes - 2 hours to cook so it makes sense to choose even-sized roots. Prevent, particularly red varieties, from ‘bleeding’ their juice by cooking them with any whiskery roots and 2cm of stalk intact. Roasting at no more than 180C in a foil-covered tin retains the most flavour, but they can be boiled in salted water. Resist the temptation to test for doneness with a knife tip to avoid ‘bleeding’. They are cooked when the skin wrinkles and comes away easily.
Salty foods balance out the innate sweetness of Beetroots. Anchovies, capers or goat’s cheese are perfect for this. Oily salted fish like herring, or smoked salmon are good to. The grassy notes of the herb dill respond to the beetroot’s qualities and they are often paired in Eastern European cuisines, soured cream bringing the two together most successfully. And the go-to spices for Beetroot are smoky, citrusy cumin or musky toasted caraway seeds. A good dollop of hot mustard peps-up beetroot no end.
What to make? With nothing to temper its earthiness, raw Beetroot is not to everyone’s taste – though Chioggia or Candy varieties are milder than the dark red varieties - but juicing them is the healthy way to go. Recent medical studies have shown drinking beetroot juice is a natural way to reduce blood pressure. Grated raw roots are good mixed with grated carrot and an oil and citrus dressing, or with celeriac and a mustardy mayonnaise dressing. Make a Scandinavian Beetroot and Herring salad: salt herrings, boiled beetroot, cooked potato, apple, raw onion, hard-boiled eggs and parsley. A classic salad of vinaigrette-dressed Beetroot and Goat’s cheese with walnuts - plated at the last minute so that the lovely white of the cheese isn’t too marred by the bloody beets. An Indian Beetroot Raiti, on the other hand, positively celebrates the vivid result of beetroot meeting dairy. And, of course, there’s Borscht, the celebrated beetroot soup that originated in present-day Ukraine. Beetroots also respond wonderfully well to being fermented. If you don’t want to do this yourself, take a look at our London Fermentary fridge – definitely good for your health!