Apr08

The Beetroot files

Fresh beetroot

Fresh beetroot

Half the people I meet can’t stand beetroot and, after the treatment the poor miserable vegetable received at the hands of generations of British cooks, who can blame them? Boiled to death and then soaked in horribly acrid malt vinegar, it then lurked on plates of ham salad, or leaked purplish juices into bowls of limp mixed salad. If you were very lucky it might have been enlivened by a touch of the viscous salad cream that was England’s answer to mayonnaise, but which more closely resembled buttermilk emulsion paint.

But, people, banish the vinegar, lose the limp lettuce and take heart, because beetroot really is the most fabulous vegetable! Sweet, earthy and peppery all at once, it is delicious both raw and cooked, is good hot or cold, makes great crisps, stunning soups, delicious juices and interesting

beetroot, banana and ginger smoothie

In my garden today: beetroot, banana and ginger smoothies

smoothies. I haven’t had it in pudding, yet, but there’s still time. And the good news is that it also comes in several different shades, so if blood red isn’t your colour, go for the mid-red, the golden or the bull-eye’s striped varieties that you can find around in farmers’ markets and your friends’ gardens. (Well, my friend Ann grows wondrous stripy ones, anyway.)

Last night my friend Bertie came over and we had a beetroot salad with red onion and a balsamic and caraway dressing. I found the recipe years ago when I was working on the Gary Rhodes’ Good Cooking magazine, cut it out, used it a few times and then tragically lost it. But just now I found it in my filing system and I only wish I could remember where it came from and I would give its author an enormous hug (or a credit, anyway) because this is a dish you could eat on a nearly daily basis. Here it is, slightly adapted.

Beetroot Salad with Red Onion and Balsamic Vinegar

Serves 4

beetroot salad with balsamic vinegar

beetroot salad with balsamic vinegar

450g cooked beetroot

1 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil

1 tsp grainy mustard

4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

dash Tabasco

1 tsp caraway seeds, lightly crushed

1 red onion, sliced really finely

1 handful chopped parsley or coriander

50 g Feta

Sea salt and ground black pepper

Dice or slice the beetroot into acceptable chunks for your palate and put into a bowl. Mix the oil, mustard, vinegar, Tabasco and caraway and tip it over the beetroot and allow it to marinate to develop the flavours. When you are about to eat, add the onion, parsley and seasoning. Finally crumble the Feta over the top and decorate with some sprigs of parsley.

This is delicious with slices of cold pork and some home made oven chips; it’s pretty nice straight out of the bowl with no accompaniments at all.

beetroot salad with cold sliced pork and home made soda bread with raisins and caraway seeds

beetroot salad with cold sliced pork and home made soda bread with raisins and caraway seeds

Talking of pork, I’ve lately been teaching my Indian cookery groups a very nice meat stew called botigosht, which can be made with lamb or pork and it’s really good with a very simple dish of spiced beetroot. The earthy sweetness of the beetroot is combined with tangy tomatoes, spiked with cumin and just a touch of chilli. Thank you, Ms Jaffrey! As she rightly points out most Indian vegetable dishes work just as well with English roasts and cold meats. Sadly there’s no picture of this one today as I haven’t any beetroot left after my orgy of smoothie drinking this morning (by the way, don’t you like the spring flowers? I have one square metre of colour in my otherwise-untouched-by-spring garden.)

Spiced Beetroot

Serves 4

450g beetroot, peeled and cut into neat chunks

4 tbsp veg oil

1 tsp whole cumin seeds

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 tsp plain flour

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 can tomatoes

1 tsp salt

275ml (1/2 pt) water

Heat the oil and put in the cumin seeds and sizzle them for a few seconds. Add garlic and stir until it starts to turn golden. Add onion and stir fry for 2 minutes before adding flour and chilli powder. Stir fry again for a minute. Add beetroot, tomatoes, salt and water. Bring up to the boil, then cover and simmer until the beets become tender, about 30 minutes for young ones and much, much longer for oldies. If the dish is too wet, cook it uncovered until some of the liquid evaporates.

Basic beetroot knowhow

Of course you can eat beetroot raw; choose small young roots, scrub and trim them, then peel and grate or chop into fine matchsticks or mini chunks. If you prefer them cooked, the options are boiling, steaming, microwaving or roasting, all of which can produce excellent results. Unless the beetroot is to be gently stewed in a casserole, as in  Spiced Beetroot above, it’s best to leave the skins on while the root is cooking. When they are tender, allow them to cool and then peel off the skin and shape them as you wish. Whichever way you choose, everything will acquire a delightful pinkish tinge! We made beetroot muffins for Good Cooking one week which, though nice to eat, didn’t make it to the camera as their lurid glow didn’t really complement the cappucino, so we took photographs of the courgette muffins instead.

Finally as I feel all Book a Cook blogs should end with a drink, the very best of the many beetroot soups I have ever drunk packs the punch of a Bloody Mary without a drop of alcohol in it, though I’m sure that a shot glass of vodka for each shot glass of soup would be splendid. For this one my heartfelt thanks to Jill Dupleix, who apparently got the recipe from the staff of the Orient Express.

Chilled Beetroot Soup with creme fraiche

Chilled beetroot soup with not a drop of vodka in sight!

Chilled beetroot soup with not a drop of vodka in sight!

Enough for 12 small glasses

3 shallots, 3 cloves garlic, 1 bunch basil, 3 celery stalks, 400g cooked peeled beetroot chopped small

50ml red wine vinegar

50ml extra virgin olive oil

50ml vegetable oil

300ml vegetable stock

Sea salt and pepper

To serve:

100g creme fraiche

finely chopped chives

12 shots vodka

Mix all the vegetables in a bowl and mix with the vinegar and oils. Cover with clingfilm and marinate for a few hours. Whizz to a smooth puree, then add the stock and season the mixture to taste. Add a little extra vinegar for bite if you wish. Chill until you are ready to serve.

Pour the mixture into attractive small glasses and top with a small dab of creme fraiche. Scatter with the chives and have with chilled vodka alongside. The last is not compulsory, really.

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