It's colourful and full of health benefits - so don't be bashful with beetroot, try it in delicious dishes from fritters to hummus
My late father, Henry, was something of a leader in food; where he led, I usually followed. He was an adventurous eater and possibly even a greedy one. Many of my favourite memories of him are of food "firsts"; the ones where he introduced me to new things, from smoked salmon to curries, or laksa noodles to a good real ale and other simple pleasures.
But for all those good memories, there was one that scarred me for life. Henry's favourite sandwich was made up of layers of pickled beetroot and piccalilli. He would sit there with a look of such beatific pleasure while stuffing his face with this monstrous sarnie. It made him blissfully happy. It made my stomach churn.
It wasn't just the pickle overload that revolted me. It was the taste of beetroot itself. Even when I had realised that perhaps the British way of pickling beetroot in malt vinegar wasn't that blameless root's finest hour, the unadulterated vegetable didn't do much for me either. It was just too sweet and tasted of mud.
But it wasn't my poor old father's baffled look of wounded disappointment, nor was it beetroot's now widely understood health benefits that made me realise I should do something about my dislike. It was really two things. The colour of beetroot juice, a dark pink-red, is probably my favourite colour in the whole colour spectrum and since colour is as important to how we perceive flavour, it seemed like a good idea to overcome my beetroot aversion. The second reason was more fundamental; I hate to feel as if I am missing out on something.
If you are lucky enough to buy your beetroot with leaves and stems intact, then bear in mind that you can cook them. Cook them as you would chard (a relative) or spinach. To keep fresh beetroot in tip-top condition store them in a cool, dark place as you would potatoes. If you trim the beetroot of the stem they will stay fresher for longer - I tend to stick the stems in a jar of water to use later, chopped up in salads. The trimmed beetroot will stay fresh in the fridge for about two weeks.
1. Beef Lindstrom
This classic Swedish dish popularised in the 19th century, was a favourite of the eponymous Mr Lindstrom who apparently grew up in Russia. I suspect the clue is in some of the ingredients: beetroot and capers. It makes a really delicious alternative to burgers or meatballs.
Ingredients: 500g minced beef 2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped 2 tbsp capers, chopped 1 tbsp tomato ketchup 2 tsp Dijon mustard salt and freshly ground black pepper 100g raw or pickled beetroot (see instructions below), chopped butter 1 tbsp white wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar (if using raw beetroot) Sauteed potatoes, to serve
If using raw beetroot, melt a knob of butter in a small frying pan. Gently fry the beetroot for 5 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the vinegar and simmer until the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.
Combine the beef with the chopped anchovies, capers, ketchup, mustard and seasoning. Add the cooked beetroot (or pickled beetroot, if using). Form into patties.
Heat a large knob of butter in a large frying pan. Gently fry the patties for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until lightly browned on each side and cooked through. Serve with sauteed potatoes.
Tip: Top with a poached or fried egg.
2. Smoky beetroot hummus
Ingredients: 2 medium-sized beetroot, washed and trimmed (about 200g) water half a can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained (about 200g) juice of 1 lemon 1-2 tbsp tahini 1 garlic clove, chopped salt, to taste 1 tsp smoked paprika a pinch of dried chilli flakes fresh dill, chopped, to serve (optional)
Preheat oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6.
Scrub the beetroot and trim the stems. Individually wrap each beetroot with kitchen foil and add about 1 tablespoon of water. Bake until tender, for about 45 minutes to one hour. When they are tender to the point of a sharp knife pressed into the skin, set aside to cool.
When the beetroot is cool enough to handle, peel and roughly chop. In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, salt, smoked paprika and dried chilli. Whizz to form a rough paste. Add the chopped beetroot. Blend again, as smooth or as chunky as you like. Add a splash of water if it is very thick, to loosen. (You could add a little olive oil if you would prefer.) Serve with a sprinkling of fresh dill.
Tip: To make a more fluid dip, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of plain yoghurt.
3. Beetroot fritters
Fritters are a great way of using up raw vegetables and these beetroot fritters are no exception. I have also included the stems and leaves. While the handful of herbs and feta cheese are optional (I just happened to have them to hand), the spices aren't because they really do complement the earthy sweet flavour of beetroot. It may be worth wearing disposable gloves to make this recipe. It can be a little messy and the beetroot juice may stain, although it is not permanent!
Makes about 12 to 14 fritters
Ingredients: 300g beetroot, washed, peeled and roughly grated salt 1 egg, beaten a small handful of chopped fresh herbs (optional) - I used a mix of parsley and dill with a little mint 2 tsp ground cumin half tsp caraway seeds freshly ground black pepper 40g feta cheese, crumbled (optional) 4 tbsp dried bread crumbs olive oil a knob of butter
Roughly grate the peeled beetroot (in a food processor is fine). Tip into a bowl and sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Set aside for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Drain the beetroot and squeeze out any excess liquid.
In a clean bowl, combine the beetroot with the chopped herbs, cumin, caraway, black pepper, feta and breadcrumbs. Leave for about 10 minutes to allow the breadcrumbs to soak up any excess liquid.
If you are using the beetroot leaves and stems, wash them to remove any grit and blanch for 1 minute. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Squeeze out any excess water and chop finely. Combine with the rest of the beetroot mixture.
Add enough of the beaten egg to form a thick paste. (You may not need all of the egg. If it is too runny then add extra breadcrumbs.) Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up.
Form the mixture into patties. (I find the easiest way is to make a ball and then press down with the heel of my hand.) Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the butter and when foaming, add some of the fritters. You will probably need to do this in batches as you don't want to crowd the pan. (It is much easier to turn and flip the fritters if there is a little space in the pan.) Cook for about 3 minutes on each side until crisp and lightly browned. Transfer to kitchen paper to drain. Serve hot.
Tips: For a crisp finish, lightly flour with plain or gram (chickpea) flour. The raw mixture can happily be prepared the day before cooking and will last well in the fridge.
4. Beetroot halwa
This pudding from the Indian subcontinent was naturally sweet before I added the sugar. but the additional 3tbsp actually gives the final dish a beautiful glossy finish. Ground cardamom gives a lovely hint of citrus too.
Ingredients:2 beetroot (about 100g), grated 3 tbsp ghee (or clarified butter) 450ml milk 3 tbsp sugar half tsp ground cardamon a splash of orange blossom water (optional) pistachio nuts, to serve
Rinse the beetroot, then peel and grate. In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the ghee. When melted, add the beetroot. Gently fry over a low heat for 5 minutes, stirring to ensure the mixture doesn't catch and burn. Add the milk. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquid should reduce by about 75% until it thickens and begins to look glossy.
Add the sugar, stir well and continue to simmer over a very low heat, stirring regularly to prevent the mixture from catching. Add the ground cardamom and orange blossom water (if using). Continue to simmer, stirring constantly, until all of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick and glossy. The halwa can be served warm or chilled. Decorate with a few slithers of pistachio.
Tip: This is often served decorated with cashew nuts rather than pistachios, as well as a handful of dried fruit such as sultanas.
Other ideas for using up beetroot
5. Felicity Cloake's perfect borscht recipe; gently spiced with black peppercorns, allspice, bay leaves, and tangy with cider vinegar. Her suggestion of adding crunchy cabbage just added to the pleasure.
6. Eventually, I had to bite the bullet, or in this case, beetroot and pickle the stuff. It really is rather nice!
7. Everyone is talking about Urvashi Roe's beetroot pasta, which looks divine, topped with a carrot top pesto.