Sunday, 5 July 2015


Some families split over political parties or religious faith. Mine split over beetroot. Some relations insisted on having bowls of boiled beetroot at every major meal, while the beet-haters complained all the while. I joined the anti-beetroot faction in childhood after finding them bland and mealy, until in adulthood I discovered the many other things you could do with the vegetable.

 Now that the first beetroots are coming in our garden – and probably yours as well – we should revisit this long-maligned vegetable. It grows very well in most temperate climates, growing large over the summer and often remaining intact and quite edible even through the winter. Every part of it is edible -- leaves, stalks and roots -- and it comes in many varieties beyond the familiar red: yellow, pink, even striped. It makes good animal feed, sugar, wine, and a variety of dishes, including:

Savoury beetroot salad: In a large salad bowl, mix 20 ml of sesame oil and 20 ml of lemon juice, and add dashes of powdered ginger, cayenne pepper and light soy sauce. Chop up a fistful of chives, although scallions would also do – about 50g. Clean and grate a few medium-sized beetroots (500g) and add 100g of diced feta cheese. Mix the beetroot and cheese well and toss them with the sauce.

Beetroot leaves: Drizzle a bit of oil into a pan over medium heat, throw in a pat of butter and let it melt. Dice a large onion and stir it in. While the onion is sautéing, wash the leaves and chop them. When the onion pieces have turned golden brown, put the chopped leaves in the pan, pour in a cup of vegetable stock, and place a lid over the pan. Let it sautee for about five minutes or so and then check to see if it’s done. Add a sprinkling of lemon juice and a dash of paprika, or experiment with the spices you like. You could serve the leaves like spinach, as a side dish, or use it to fill a crepe or an omelette, or mix it with scrambled eggs.

Borscht: In this vegetarian version, first heat the oven to 250 degrees Centigrade. First peel about 500g of beetroots, slice them into cubes, drizzle a little olive oil over the cubes and toss them around until they are lightly coated in oil. Stretch aluminium foil over an oven tray, spread the cubed beetroot over the tray and put it in the oven for an hour. While that is roasting, take a large pot and drizzle the bottom with oil and butter.

Dice two large onions, put them in the pan and stir them around, and then do the same with about 100g of cabbage, three stalks of celery, two large carrots, and – just before the end – some garlic. Let them sautee until they are soft and lightly golden. Then pour in a litre of vegetable stock and add 10 ml of lemon juice, 10 ml of dark soy sauce and stir in. Finally, take the beetroots out of the oven and add them to the pot. I blitzed the soup with a mixer, but if you don’t have one you can just mash up the chunky bits. Then pour the borscht into bowls and put a dollop of sour cream in the middle, and sprinkle a bit of dill and chervil over the top.

There are all kinds of other possibilities. Try making beetroot chips instead of potato chips. Slice them thinly with a mandolin, cover them in oil, and set them on an oven pan until they become crisp, and then sprinkle them with seasoning and salt to make beetroot crisps.

 You can make pink mashers by mixing beetroot mash with potatoes. You can cut your beetroots into cubes, put them around a chicken in a pan, and roast them in the oven. You can dry them in a dehydrator or solar oven, and keep in jars on the shelf until you need to make soup. Come up with your own possibilities and share them; beetroot makes a great crop for winter nights, and we should start using it to make things most people actually like.


Will Baird said...

Let me offer a different borscht for your readers. This one heralds from Eastern Ukraine: a variant of one from sad, smashed Gorlovka (Horlivka) to be exact. It is NOT a sweet borscht. Even if you start with sweet beats, the flavor is anything but by the end.

1 large beet
1 large yellow onion
3 moderate sized carrots
4 romano tomatoes (any tomato works so long as its fresh, but I prefer the romano here)
1 green cabbage
1 lbs (.4 kg) fatty pork shoulder (more is better, but a bit wasteful)

(optional: spicy fresh pepper)

spices and salt to taste: I use black pepper, chile pepper, garlic, cilantro (parsley passes in a pinch), oregano and basil.

Step one.

Set up a large stew pot to boil: do not fill more than 2/3s full. Salt for making pork broth. Pepper as well. I normally do a once over shaking. Estimated 1 tablespoon.

Step two.

Carve up your meet. Separate 2/3s of the fat from the meat. Carve the meat into cm to 2 cm cubes (or modern art approximations thereof) and toss into pot. Let boil, periodically check for saltiness and flavor.

Dice the remaining fat into cubes as small as you can make them. keep.

Step three.

Prepare your vegetables.

grate your beets and carrots, keep in separate containers/bowls. Slice your onion into thin rings and then quarter the rings (separate bowl). Puree your tomatoes (yes, yes, you can use tomato sauce...cheater) (again separate bowl). Slice your cabbage into thin slices, then quarter again.

If using spicy peppers, thinly dice them. carefully. When doing this, I normally use habaneros.

Step four.

Heat your large (!) frying pan. Do so gently and slowly. Place fat cubes into pan, fry, but aiming to NOT burn the fat, but rather render it down. Remote crunchy bits from pan. Keep liquid fat/lard. Increase heat to fry vegetables.

First fry the onions in the fat. When they start to brown, add the carrots. Likewise, when carrots are starting to brown (just barely), add beets. When beets are soft, add tomato puree. I normally cook the tomato to lose a bit of the too fresh taste, but YMMV. Add salt to taste. I normally add in the chile pepper and any spicy peppers at this point.

Do NOT burn anything!

Step Five.

Pour contents of frying pan into stew pot. Mix thoroughly. Use ladle to take broth out and pour onto level frying pan over heat to collect left over fat, etc. Pour back into stew pot.

Step Six.

Add cabbage into stew pot. Bring to hard boil for no more than 5 minutes (if you like cabbage soft) or just bring to boil and remove from heat (if you like cabbage crunchy in borscht).

Remove from heat.

Step Seven.

Add spices. Yes. at the end. This was an odd one for me since it ran very contrary to what I learned cooking when I was growing up. Traditionally, other than salt and any spicy peppers you use, this is the first time you put in any spices. I prefer to add pepper in the broth and sometimes garlic. I also prefer to add the chile pepper (dried) into the frying pan just as the tomatoes are frying, too. Do to taste.

WARNING! This takes time, but oh so worth it.

Recipe shared from the American-mutt Bairds whose last Irish ancestor (Rosemary Campbell) boarded a ship in 1919 to Boston and the mother of the latest generation is from eastern Ukraine.

Anonymous said...

Beetroot is quite popular here in Australia but until recently I only knew of it as either whole baby beets or sliced and both pickled in vinegar and sugar in a can from the supermarket. A summer meal wasn't complete without the Tupperware beetroot drainer being on the table. A slice of beetroot rounds out a hamburger beautifully too and in fact, the company with the golden arches brought out the Aussie burger here, complete with fried egg and beetroot.

Unknown said...

Oh Brian, i too was a sworn beetroot hater until last year whilst dining at a polish friends place i was presented with traditional borscht with cream, made by her mother. Since she was sitting at the table with us, i had no choice in the matter. What a revelation.

Nothing like the boiled pulp my mother made when i was younger. As subsistence farmers whatever was in glut was eaten till it was gone. The beetroot and mushroom season seemed to last forever and there was only ever one way of cooking things, boiled. Ive managed to overcome my fear of cabbage but i still haven't gained an appreciation for beetroot or mushrooms.

Brian Kaller said...

Will, I plan to try this out -- I like cutting the sweetness of the beets with some savoury and sour flavours. Thanks!

Hippy, pickled beets are the most common way of preparing them in Ireland as well -- ironically, that's my least favourite method of serving them. I would pickle them if the economy or climate took a nose dive, but for the moment boxes of sand do fine.

Lynda, I'm so sorry -- I know a lot of people who grew up like that, not realising that food could taste good. Glad you were re-introduced to beetroot on better terms.