Apart from the glorious colour of fresh beetroot, if you’ve never tried this root vegetable fresh, it is well worth checking out. The texture is firm, almost meaty, and the flavour of the fresh root is delicately earthy and sweet – sadly both characteristics get lost once it is pickled or soaked in vinegar.
The dense texture does mean it requires a lot of cooking, but you can enjoy small, raw slivers in salads – it bleeds into other ingredients so is best added at the last-minute. Small beet leaves are also good as salad leaves, and have a slight flavour of the vegetable itself; the larger, red-veined leaves can be cooked like spinach or chard but sadly they lose much of the red colour once cooked.
Preparing and cooking fresh beetroot
Beetroot juice is very strongly coloured. To prevent staining your hands, you might want to wear thin latex gloves. Slice off the leaves, wash the roots thoroughly, peel thinly, and grate coarsely. Alternatively, slice thinly and then into fine strips for salads, or pare pieces directly into a salad using a vegetable peeler.
For boiling, remove the leaves, wash the whole roots and then place unpeeled in a saucepan. Cover with water, bring to the boil and cook for 1 to 2 hours depending on the size – golf ball sized beetroot are best for boiling and will be ready easily within an hour. If you cut the beetroot before cooking, you will lose much of the colour to the cooking water – although this is fine for making soups or casseroles when you will eat the cooking juices as part of the dish. Drain and refresh in cold water before rubbing away the skin. Serve as a hot vegetable or leave to go cold for other uses.
Beetroot bake well. Choose medium-sized roots and wash as above. Leave unpeeled and wrap individually in foil. Place the parcels on a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 200°C(180°C fan oven, 400°G, gas mark 6) for about 1 ¼ hours until the beetroot feels tender when slightly squeezed. Serve straight from the foil, split, and lightly seasoned.
- Beetroot goes well with orange, apple, watercress, rocket, dill, caraway, cumin, horseradish, smoked fish, pickled herring, and goat’s cheese and other soft dairy cheeses or creams.
- Toss thick slices of cooked beetroot in seasoned flour and shallow fry in vegetable oil for a few minutes on each side until golden. Drain well and serve with a sweetened balsamic vinegar and wholegrain mustard dressing.
- You can make an instant beetroot “chutney” by grating or chopping cooked roots and mixing with finely chopped raw red onion, grated carrot, black onion seeds and seasoning. Mix in balsamic vinegar and sugar (or honey) to taste. Keep sealed in a jar in the fridge for 24 hours to allow the flavours to develop. Great with Indian food. Will keep for about a week, sealed in the fridge.
- Peel and chunk raw beetroot and mix with chopped onion, carrot, garlic, cumin and ground coriander. Place in the bottom of a casserole dish, season and sprinkle with a little sugar. This makes a great base for slow cooking lamb on top – seal with a tight-fitting lid so that everything cooks in its own juices.
- Shred raw beet leaves and add to a stir fry for the last-minute of cooking.
- One of my favourite winter salads from yesteryear is Russian salad: a combination of cooked diced beetroot, mixed with cooked diced potatoes and carrot, some cooked peas, chopped fresh cucumber and some chopped pickled gherkins. Tossed in mayonnaise. Often topped with sliced hardboiled egg for more of a main meal. Also good with pickled herring.
- Replace grated carrot in a cake or loaf recipe with grated cook beetroot. You’ll end up with a pretty pink bake with a deliciously moist texture. Note: sadly I’ve been too busy with work to bake this week, but I do have a great recipe which I’ll be posting once I get back in the kitchen again 🙂