Beetroot is my star of the week for this column. A three in one Summer vegetable that goes on giving – If you haven’t had a chance to grow some of your own, swing by the local Country Market or Farmers Market in your area. Choose a bunch of beautiful beets that still have healthy leaves and stalks intact. This is a true ‘root to shoot’ vegetable. The stalks and dark magenta leaves are also super delicious as well as the beetroot… we love to use them in both sweet and savoury dishes and enjoy both the golden and purple at so many stages.
I pick the young thinnings to add to a salad of summer leaves or to pile on top of a pizza. We start to use the beets themselves when they are golf ball size and continue as they swell. Roasting intensifies the natural sweetness even further but boiling the beets also works brilliantly and can be the basis of so many good things from soups to stews, curries, dips and crisps and of course pickles.
Have you tried Russian Kvass, a deeply nourishing, lacto fermented drink, full of probiotic goodness and so easy to make. It’s known for its healing and cleansing properties and of course also aids digestion. Beetroot gin is super cool, how about beetroot gravalax or a beetroot cake and who doesn’t love beetroot brownies…..
We made a number of beetroot soups both hot and chilled, some are smooth and silky, others like Borscht and Chorba has lots of chunky bits – a drizzle of sour or pungent horseradish cream over the top and a sprinkling of purple chive flowers or pretty chervil blossoms to ‘guild the lily’.
This beetroot dip is irresistible, a brilliant standby to have on hand to scoop up with pitta or as part of a mezza plate. Chunks of beetroot add extra deliciousness and nutrients to a tray of roast vegetables. The Sri Lankans make some of the best vegetable curry and I featured my favourite Beetroot curry from Sunhouse in Galle on the 25th May (http://letters.cookingisfun.ie/2019/05/#Sri+Lankan+Beetroot%0ACurry)
Beetroot crisps are also irresistible, remember to cook them at 160° rather than the 180° for potato crisps because of their high natural sugar content which can scorch at a higher heat.
Then of course there’s the bonus of the stalks and leaves from the summer beets, chop the stalks and cook in boiling salted water for a few minutes (spinach stalks work too), slather with extra virgin olive oil, add freshly chopped herbs and chilli, delicious and a favourite on Fergus Henderson’s menu at St John in London.
The leaves can be cooked like spinach either in well salted water on a frying pan over a high heat.
If you are lucky enough to have a glut, then let’s pickle, who doesn’t love juicy, homemade beetroot pickle? So completely different to the harsh vinegary pickle of childhood memories. It’ll last for months to embellish goats cheese, smoked fish or salads and there’s the extra feel good factor of having pickled your own and great to have as a homemade pressie when visiting friends.
Check out these beetroot recipe suggestions….
You can make vegetable crisps from a variety of different vegetables: parsley, celeriac, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes of course. But you need to be careful with the ones that are very high in sugar, because they need to be cooked at a lower temperature, otherwise they’ll be dark and bitter. Serves about 8
a few raw beetroots, small to medium-sized
oil in a deep-fat fryer
Use a vegetable peeler to peel the beetroot. Then slice on a mandolin into paper-thin slices. Leave them to dry out on kitchen paper (this may take several hours). You want them to be dry, otherwise they’ll end up being soggy when you cook them.
Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 140ºC (275ºF) and cook slowly, a few at a time. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt.
This is a slightly sour/salty tonic of a deep-red colour known to help clean the liver and purify the blood.
2 large beetroot
1 1/2 litres (2 1/2 pints) filtered water (or non-chlorinated)
2 teaspoons sea salt
50ml (2fl oz) starter – this could be whey, water kefir, sauerkraut juice or kombucha
Scrub the beetroot but do not peel.
Chop into small chunks – 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes (roughly).
Put into a 2 litre Kilner jar or something similar with a lid.
Add the water, sea salt and starter and secure the lid tightly.
Allow to sit in a warming undisturbed place for about 5 days.
Bubbles will start to appear (fermentation is taking a hold) – taste it after day 3, if it is to your liking. Strain out the beetroot chunks. Bottle and store in the fridge once it reaches the desired sourness.
Rory O’Connell’s Chilled Ruby Beetroot Soup
Hopefully your decision to make this soup will coincide with a warm day, as scorching shaded lunches or long balmy evenings are the perfect weather conditions for enjoying this soup, though I can enjoy it almost as much in less clement weather conditions. If you come across golden beetroots, they can be used in exactly the same way as the ruby variety, though they must be cooked separately as the ruby beetroot will bleed into the golden and render them pink, which would really defeat the purpose of using them in the first place. I some times make a little of both colours and serve them swirled together though you may think that’s too horribly psychadelic. Lots of finely chopped chives and their pretty pink flowers help to make a pretty and delicious presentation. Save the leaves of the beets for wilting, or if small and delicate for adding to your salad bowl.
800g (1 3/4lb) whole beetroot
225g (8oz) chopped onions
50g (2oz) butter
salt, pepper and sugar
approx 1.2 litre (2 pints) of light chicken stock
150ml (5fl oz) pouring cream
300ml (10 fl oz) natural, unsweetened yoghurt
4 tablespoons of chopped chives and chive flowers if available
Wash the beets under a cold running tap with your hands being careful not to break the skin. Leave the little tail on and about 5cm (2 inches) of the stalks intact so as not to allow the beets to bleed.
Place in a saucepan that they fit snugly into and cover with boiling water. Add a pinch of salt and sugar. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer until the beets are cooked. The cooking time depends on the size and they can take anything from 20 minutes for tiny little beets to 2 hours for larger ones. They are cooked when the skin rubs off really easily. Don’t use a knife to test if they are cooked, as this will also cause bleeding.
While the beets are cooking, melt the butter and allow to foam. Add the onions, coat in the butter, cover tightly and sweat very gently until soft, tender and uncolored.
When the beets are cooked, peel, chop coarsely and add to the onions.
Add just enough boiling chicken stock to cover and season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for just 1 minute.
Now purée to achieve a smooth and silky consistency. Allow to cool completely. Add yoghurt and a little cream to taste. Check seasoning adding a little sugar if necessary.
Serve chilled with a swirl of yoghurt and lots of chopped chives and a few chive flowers if available.
1 lb (450g) cooked beetroot
8 oz (225g) sugar
16 fl oz (475ml) water
8 fl oz (250ml) white wine vinegar
Dissolve the sugar in water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled sliced beets and leave to cool.
Beetroot tops are full of flavour and are often unnecessarily discarded – if you grow your own remember to cook them as well as the beetroot. When the leaves are tiny they make a really worthwhile addition to the salad bowl both in terms of nutrition and flavour.
450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops
Butter or olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut the stalks and leaves into approx. 2 inch pieces, keep separate. First cook the stalks in boiling salted water (3 pints water to 1½ teaspoons salt) for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Just add the leaves and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
Drain, season and toss in a little butter or olive oil. Serve immediately.
Beetroot Tops with Cream
Substitute 75-125ml (3-4fl.ozs) cream for olive oil in the recipe above. A little freshly grated nutmeg is also delicious.
Ottolenghi’s Pureed Beetroot with Yoghurt and Za’atar
900g (2lb) medium beetroots – (500g (18oz) after cooking and peeling)
2 garlic cloves – crushed
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
250g (9oz) Greek yoghurt
1 1/2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons) date syrup
3 tablespoons (4 1/2 American tablespoons) olive oil, plus extra to finish the dish
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) za’atar
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
15g (3 /4 oz) toasted hazelnuts or pistachio nuts, roughly crushed
60g (2 1/2 oz) soft goats cheese, crumbled
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Mark 6.
Wash the beetroot and place in a roasting tin. Put them in the oven and cook, uncovered, until a knife slices easily into the centre, approximately 1 hour. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel and cut each into about 6 pieces. Allow to cool down.
Place the beetroot, garlic, chilli and yoghurt in a food processor bowl and blend to a smooth paste. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in the date syrup, olive oil, za’atar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Taste and add more salt if you like.
Transfer the mash onto a flat serving plate and use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture around the plate. Scatter the spring onion, hazelnuts or pistachios and cheese on top and finally drizzle with a bit of oil Serve at room temperature.
Beetroot and Walnut Cake
3 free-range organic eggs
150ml (5fl oz) sunflower oil
25g (1oz) soft brown sugar
150g (5oz) white or spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
100g (4oz) beetroot, grated
60g (2 1/4oz) sultanas
60g (2 1/4oz) walnuts, coarsely chopped
175g (6oz) icing sugar
3-4 tablespoons water to bind
deep-fried beetroot (see below)
toasted pumpkin seeds
1 loaf tin 13 x 20cm (5 x 8inch)
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Line a loaf tin with a butter paper or baking parchment.
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and sugar until smooth. Sift in the flour and baking powder, add a pinch of salt and gently mix into the egg mixture. Stir in the grated beetroot, sultanas and walnuts. Pour into the prepared tin. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
Next make the icing.
Sieve the icing sugar, beat in the water gradually to a stiff but spreadable consistency. Spread evenly over the cake, allow to drizzle down the sides, leave for 5 minutes and scatter with deep-fried beetroot (see below) and pumpkin seeds.
To Deep-fry Beetroot
Peel the outer skin off the beetroot. Using a peeler, slice thin rings of the beetroot. Allow to dry on kitchen paper for 20 minutes. Deep-fry until crispy.