I have always thought that beetroot was a magical ingredient.
Its taste, flavour, texture and piquancy are unique and it is just so bright and appealing.
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I was brought up on beetroot and I love it, hot or cold. In fact, one of the best things I have ever eaten was a sandwich which I had whilst I was working on a building site which was filled with pea pudding, corned beef and jarred beetroot. By the time I got to work the sandwich had turned pink and tasted almost like a savoury bread pudding. It was fantastic.
Beetroot has had a huge revival over the last few years. The golden variety has really taken off in restaurants and you’ve got the blacks and blues, which are having a renaissance.
You can buy it raw but you have got to peel it, prepare it and cook it, which can be quite a slog, so I would stick to buying it fresh from a deli or vacuum packed.
The wonderful thing about beetroot is that you can do anything with it. You can add it to a wonderful winter stew to turn it red and give it that Christmassy feeling, you can peel, grate and cook it with some potato, onions and a bit of corned beef and make a fantastic rosti then pop some ham and a fried egg on the top and you’re on to a winner. If you take boiled rice and chuck some beetroot in with fried onions and grated cheese you can make a lovely sweet and salty dish. And it also makes a fantastic drink, just blitz it with water.
It also works well with horseradish, mustard, haggis and spices like cardamom. It is fantastic with pasta, where the big appeal is the effect it has on the sauce. If you add some chopped beetroot to a cheese sauce it goes red, it’s brilliant.
Beetroot works beautifully with any cheese and, because of its tartness, it can also handle sweetness so it goes well with sultanas, figs and dates.
Or if you want to make my pea pudding and corned beef sandwiches, take two doorstops of bread, a ton of butter and brown sauce, a big slice of beetroot, pea pudding and corned beef and enjoy. You will thank me for it.
I love the piquancy of beetroot and it’s good for you, it keeps you sprightly and sharp. When I was a kid my mum used to encourage me to drink the vinegar from the jars of pickled beetroot because she thought it was good for the system so I was always brought up thinking it had medicinal qualities.
It is pretty unique and fresh or from a jar, it is superb. The flavour of vegetables is the most important thing for me in cooking and, with beetroot, I tend to eat it by itself because it is that good as an ingredient.
The colour, for me, makes it a magical thing and I think that is why it has been cherished by chefs for centuries.
Beetroot is reknown for its bright colour but did you know that red pigments from the root vegetable are used to colour other foods such as strawberry jam, tomato paste, sauces and strawberry ice cream?
Here are 10 more fascinating facts that you might not know about beetroot.
1 Beetroot is a proven hangover cure. The pigment that gives the vegetable its colour (beta cyanin) is an antioxidant which speeds up the detoxification of the liver, enabling the body to turn alcohol into less harmful substances more quickly.
2 Beetroot has one of the highest sugar contents of any vegetable, with one containing up to 10% natural sugar
3 The Elizabethans used to prepare beetroot for cooking by wiping it with fresh dung
4 Beetroot can help you relax. The vegetable contains betaine, which is used in different forms to treat depression, and tryptophan, which is found in chocolate and contributes to a sense of wellbeing.
5 In Australia, an Oz-style burger is not complete unless it has a slice of beetroot in it. Even Burger King and McDonald’s have to include it in their menus.
6 Beetroot juice can be used to measure acidity as, when added to a solution, it turns pink if it is an acidic and yellow if it is an alkali
7 In 1975, during the Apollo-Soyuz test project, cosmonauts from the USSR’s Soyuz 19 welcomed Apollo 18 astronauts by serving them borscht, also known as beetroot soup, in zero gravity.
8 Beetroot juice has been used as a natural red dye since the 16th century and was used by the Victorians to dye their hair.
9 An Assyrian text from around 800BC described beetroots growing in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon as one of the wonders of the ancient world
10 Beetroot evolved from the wild sea beetroot and was first domesticated in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.