Beetroot, or beets as my American readers may call them, are wonderfully earthy and sweet and powerfully flavoured. Ok, so preparing them can be a challenge; your kitchen may look like a massacre has taken place and, without gloves, your hands may take a day or two to return to normal but believe me, it’s all worth the effort.
Last year I wrote a series of recipes using courgettes and this year I planned to do the same with beetroot. So I planted row upon row of standard red and Chioggia (with pretty pink and white concentric circles) at the allotment and watched them grow with pride. Then I went away for a week and, when I returned, found that the wiley rabbits had circumvented the (ahem) “rabbit-proof” fencing and had destroyed the whole crop. Annoyingly they had bitten off all the leaves and left them to wither and had nibbled the tops of every single root! Grrr! As a child I was firmly on the side of Peter Rabbit in his little blue coat but as an allotment owner I am rapidly turning into Mrs McGregor.
I quietly shelved my beetroot idea until my friend Sarah sent me a message via the bun scuffle Facebook page challenging me to produce some recipes she could make to use up her crop. So I did what every failed grower does – I went out and bought some beetroot. Unfortunately I could only get the standard red rather than some of the prettier varieties but I love them just the same.
Last Saturday Martin set off to play in a hockey tournament and, instead of watching, as I normally would, I stayed home and planned and experimented and cooked up a very red storm.
My experimenting started with The Flavour Thesaurus which suggested that beetroot works really well with orange, horseradish, goats cheese, smoked fish, oily fish, thyme and dill so I incorporated all of those flavours into my recipes.
As all the recipes needed cooked beetroot I roasted all the roots together before I started. Beetroot takes a long time to boil and boiling removes lots of flavour and lots of colour from the roots so I prefer to roast them (in fact roasted beetroot makes a wonderful side dish all on its own). To roast simply scrub the whole roots clean, place in a roasting tin with a little oil and pop into the oven (200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6) for around forty minutes depending on the size of the roots. They are done when a table knife slips easily through the flesh. Roast the roots with the skin on as they are much easier to peel once they are cooked.
Late in the day Martin came home bruised, bleeding and starving hungry (all very normal conditions after hockey) and I served him up one of the strangest meals of his life – five separate courses all featuring the magnificent red root.
We started with a Chilled Beetroot and Orange Soup with Horseradish. I served it in glasses and Martin took one sip of his and decided that what it really needed was a slug of vodka and he promptly turned it into a sort of alternative Bloody Mary. It worked really well both ways but I think he really needed the pain numbing qualities of the alcohol.
This was followed by a Marinated Beetroot Salad with Goats Cheese which is fairly self explanatory.
The third course was a cold Beetroot and Smoked Mackerel Salad which would make a delicious light lunch under more normal circumstances.
This was followed by a hot dish; Roasted Beetroot and New Potatoes with Pan Fried Mackerel Fillets.
The final dish was a sweet one. Beetroot has long been teamed with plain chocolate to make chocolate cake but Niki Segnit (author of The Flavour Thesaurus) claims that this does not work as a flavour combination. Well I had to find out who was right, didn’t I? So I made some Beetroot and Chocolate Brownies. What can I say? Niki Segnit needs to try these!
Yes, yes, I know; this is not the most balanced menu ever but I had been experimenting and I don’t like waste so someone had to eat the results! People imagine that living with a food blogger means you get to eat gourmet food every day but sometimes being force fed experiments is the stark reality. And they were all delicious so it’s not really a hardship…is it?
I did feel a need to warn Martin that there may be a few erm… how can I phrase this delicately?.. side effects. Years ago my friend Chris was startled to hear her teenage son screaming for her from the bathroom. He showed her the toilet bowl full of red stained pee and, believing it to be blood, they piled into the car and off to A&E. A few quick tests put their minds at rest and few questions from a quick thinking doctor established that he had eaten rather a large quantity of beetroot the night before and… you get the gist. And it may not be just your pee…
So, whilst I don’t recommend eating five courses of beetroot to anyone, I do recommend these recipes. Each and every one of them was delicious. And if you don’t grow beetroot do what I did – go out and buy some.
Links to all the Beetroot Recipes: