Experience of vinegar-sodden beetroot has
doubtlessly put many people off beetroot. Those who love it know to buy
their beetroot fresh, so that they can cook it themselves. It can be
served in a number of different ways: baked and served with soured
cream, braised in a creamy sauce, grated in a salad or used for the
classic soup borscht.
History : Beetroot is closely related to
sugar beet and mangelwurzels. As the demand for sugar increased over the
centuries, when sugar could successfully be extracted from beet, sugar
production became a big industry in Britain and Europe. Mangelwurzels
were eaten in parts of Europe and in England in times of famine,
although they were primarily grown as cattle fodder. Beetroot, however,
has probably been eaten since Roman times. By the mid-nineteenth century
it was clearly a popular vegetable.
Nutrition : Beetroot is an excellent
provider of potassium. The leaves, which have the flavor of spinach, are
high in vitamin A, iron and calcium.
Buying and Storing : If possible, buy
small beetroots which have their whiskers intact and have at least 5cm
of stalk at the top; if they are too closely cropped they will bleed
during cooking. Beetroots will keep for several weeks if stored in a
Preparing : To cook beetroot whole,
first rinse under cold running water. Cut the stalks to about 2.5cm
above the beetroot and don't cut away the root or peel it - or the
glorious deep red color will bleed away. When serving cold in salads, or
when the recipe calls for chopped or grated beetroot, peel away the skin
with a potato peeler or sharp knife.
Cooking : To bake in the oven, place
the cleaned beetroot in a dish with a tight-fitting lid, and add 60-75
ml of water. Lay a double layer of foil over the dish before covering
with the lid, then bake in a low oven for 2-3 hours or until the
beetroot is tender. Check occasionally to ensure the pan doesn't dry out
and to see whether the beetroot is cooked. It is ready when the skin
begins to wrinkle and can be easily rubbed away with your fingers.
Alternatively, simply wrap the beetroot in a double layer of foil and
cook as mentioned earlier. To boil beetroot, prepare as above and simmer
for about 1 1/2 hours.
The tops of several root vegetables are not
only edible, but are also extremely nutritious. Beet greens are
particularly good, being very high in vitamins A and C, and indeed have
more iron and calcium than spinach itself. They are delicious, but not
easily available unless you grow your own. If you are lucky enough to
get some, boil the greens for a few minutes, then drain well and serve
with butter or olive oil.