It’s taken me a long time to appreciate the finer qualities of beetroot. In the naivety of youth I didn’t know any version other than the metallic tasting, vinegary tinned variety existed. Gloops of it slapped on top of iceberg lettuce didn’t add much to a salad, other than the colour purple. Wedged inside a burger with the lot was asking for trouble. Even before the first chomp, it was always the beetroot that sprang free first to land reliably on whatever white garment was anywhere in the vicinity. And in a sandwich, well let’s not go there.
Having moved beyond the tyranny of tinned to sample the delights of freshly cooked, I’ve come to love the versatility of beetroot and seek out its vibrant purple among all the duller coloured vegetables. One of the beauties of the beet is that distinctive though its outer skin is, it’s only when it’s peeled that the full beauty of its ruby marbled flesh is revealed.
But it’s not all about looks. I know you’d be disappointed if I didn’t pop in some nutritional good news and where better to go for that than my old favourite, the World’s Healthiest Foods website. Here we learn that beets are a rich source of phytonutrients which (as well as sounding exceptionally healthy) contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification properties. As well, the food family of which beetroot is a member (those containing red and yellow pigments) are thought to be especially beneficial to nervous system organs, like the eye. WHF also mentions that the traditional Russian soup borscht, made from beetroot, has been cited as an explanation for the long and healthy lives of Russians. Presumably they’re talking about those who escaped the gulags and Stalin and his cronies.
In terms of adaptability, you can’t really beat the beet. Burger-wise, it’s taken on a bit more sophistication since the days it was slapped between chunks of pineapple, lettuce, tomato and oozing egg and there are now some quite cutting edge beetroot burger recipes around. I came across a couple of good ones when I was doing the Meat Free Week challenge earlier this year.
Beetroot seems to partner particularly well with cheese, especially goat’s cheese, the two equally strongly flavoured ingredients complementing, rather than clashing with each other. Recipes using beetroot and soft cheeses abound and with summer on our doorstep (or at least coming down the road) in Australia, this combination will be popular as an accompaniment to barbecues or as the main feature. Below is an excellent example (Chevre and Beetroot salad).
When a friend gave me a bunch freshly picked from their garden a couple of months ago, I was thrilled at the chance to try something new. There are so many delicious recipes featuring the humble beet, it’s hard to choose, but I eventually settled on Roasted Balsamic Beetroot and Onion, which comes from Julie Goodwin. It’s a really zingy combination of flavours and would go well with any kind of roasted meat or if you’re not into meat, vegetable or pasta dishes, salads or whatever inspires you. It’s a gorgeous colour and in the way of beetroot, likely to transform everything around it into a similarly vivid hue if you’re not careful. So if you’ve been overlooking the beautiful beet, pick up a bunch next time you’re shopping and get into them.
- 6 small beetroots, scrubbed and cut into quarters
- 4 small red onions, cut into quarters
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Zest and juice of one orange
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- Ground black pepper
- Sea salt flakes
- Preheat oven to 180 C
- Cut beetroot and red onion into quarters
- Combine vinegar, juice, zest, oil, thyme and pepper and toss through with beetroot in a baking dish
- Bake for about one hour
- Remove from oven, sprinkle with parsley, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper
by Anne Green