Sunday, 14 March 2010


If you get a weekly delivery from an organic vegbox scheme, you will probably have seen beetroot on your doorstep over the winter. Beetroot is harevested between July and November but, if kept at the right temperature, can be stored until April - so we might see more before the season is out.

I love the colour and the sweet, earthy flavour of beetroot. Beetroot can be eaten raw, grated into salads, but for an interesting twist try Hot Raw Beetroot: peel and coarsely grate the beetroot; melt some butter in a shallow pan, then toss the beetroot in the hot butter for 2 minutes, until it is hot; season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice (from Leiths Cookery Bible). Here it is pictured accompanying smoked trout.

Beetroot should not be peeled before cooking - just rinse in warm water, and try to avoid damaging the skin and thin root. It can be boiled in a large pan of salted water for 1-2 hours, but if you're short of time 10 minutes in the pressure cooker is long enough for small beetroot, 20-25 minutes for large. Recently I have taken to baking beetroot, which gives it a sweeter, more intense flavour: simply wrap the washed beetroot in tin foil and bake for 3-4 hours in a 140℃ oven. The beetroot is cooked when the skin near the root wrinkles and comes away easily. Wait until the beetroot is cool enough to handle, then peel by rubbing gently.

The cooked beetroot can now be used in a number of dishes. There is the classic beetroot and orange salad, but Jane Grigson, in her Vegetable Book also has recipes for beetroot and potato salad, beetroot and apple salad, beetroot salad with anchovy dressing, Italian beetroot salad (onions and herbs), and Scandinavian beetroot and herring salad. It also goes very well with goats cheese and peppery leaves like watercress and rocket.

Beetroot gratin

If you prefer your beetroot hot, cut the cooked beetroot into cubes and layer it in an ovenproof dish with some grated cheese (a mixture of Gruy√®re and Parmesan works well, but any piquant cheese will do); pour over fresh double cream, and top with more cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake in a 190℃ oven until the cream is bubbling and the top nicely browned.

Beetroot risotto

For a colourful risotto, add diced beetroot for the last 2 minutes of cooking (just long enough to warm through), and top with a slow-cooked egg.

Of course, there is always Borscht; Grigson gives two recipes in her vegetable book, but I usually make this quick, vegetarian version from  Cranks Recipe Book:

Cranks Russian Borscht

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 small potato, peeled and diced
  • 450g raw beetroot, peeled and diced
  • 25g butter
  • 1.2lt vegetable stock
  • 1tsp yeast extract
  • 45ml cider vinegar
  • salt, pepper and grated nutmeg to taste
  • soured cream and chopped parsley to garnish
Melt the butter and cook the onion, without colouring, until soft. Add the potato, beetroot and stock, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently, with a lid on the pan, for 1/2 hour. Blend in a liquidizer until smooth, add the cider vinegar and yeast extract, and season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. This soup can be served hot or chilled. Garnish with a dollop of soured cream and some chopped fresh parsley.

Riverford Organic have more beetroot recipe ideas, but I think I'll be trying something sweet next time beetroot appears in my vegbox: beetroot chocolate cake.

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