Beetroot can be an intimidating vegetable to deal with, even for the keenest home cooks. But, as Wyoming Paul explains, that doesn’t mean you should shy away from it.
Oh, beetroot. It’s nearly the end of beetroot season, and I’ve barely appreciated your stainy crimson glory. I always think of you as a cold season vegetable (probably because of veggie tray roasts, or your earthy flavour and deep wintry colours), but that just isn’t the case – you’re a summer being.
To be entirely honest, while I like beetroot, it isn’t a vegetable I often cook with. If it appears in a veggie box, I’ll pick it up with a frown and wonder, “now what will I do with you?”. That’s not something I worry about with a mushroom or capsicum.
The beetroot is a vegetable with real depth: earthy, sweet, crisp and firm when raw, and beautifully dense and mellow when cooked. Because the flavour of beetroot is so strong and distinct, it’s not a vegetable you can casually pop into anything. Plus, it stains – tipping a diced beetroot into a stew is like adding one red sock to your white wash.
Its colouring is an asset to the food industry, however. Betanin, which gives beetroot its colour, is extracted and used to tint and flavour various foods, from sauces and tomato pastes, to jams, desserts, ice cream and lollies. The only problem is that if you overindulge in beetroot, you can get “beeturia”, a fantastic name for reddish pee or poo – not so fantastic is the resulting fright that it can give rise to.
But what does that vibrance represent in nutritional value? You would think that something as bright and complex as beetroot was incredibly good for you, and you would be semi-right. If folate or manganese is what you’re after, raw beetroot is for you. Otherwise, there isn’t a whole lot more going on there, just beautiful smoke and mirrors.
Where to find beetroot (while it lasts)
So how pricey is a locally grown beetroot? At New World, beetroot is $6.99/kg. Over at Countdown, $6.40/kg, and at Pak’nsave, $5.99/kg. That’s about $1.80 to $2.20 per beetroot. Supie (which is currently Auckland only) sells three beetroot for $3.49, making it once again the best-priced retailer.
How to make beetroot terrible
OK, this is slightly outside the box, but hear me out. I once made an apple and rhubarb crumble using rhubarb from a friend’s veggie garden. Except, it wasn’t all rhubarb. A good handful of what I’d shown from the vegetable patch was beet stalks.
They didn’t melt down in the pot to delicious, fibrous, pinky gloop, which is what caused me to investigate and take a bite of the still-firm purple stalk. For that reason I can confirm that beet stalks also taste like beetroot, and they are not what your crumble always needed. Tip: don’t plant your beetroot right next to your rhubarb.
While there are many other dishes I wouldn’t add beetroot to (stir fry, pizza, chicken noodle soup), I’d also say – why not? If beetroot pizza gets you going, I won’t stand in your way. Maybe it’ll be the next big thing on TikTok.
How to make beetroot amazing
Let’s talk about fresh beetroot, because while (uncontaminated) beetroot hummus is lovely, and tinned beetroot is a classic burger topping…I really don’t know what else I’d do with a can of beets other than put it on a burger for my dad.
For me, the most frequent use of fresh beetroot is in salads, and two options stand out. One is simply peeled and grated raw beetroot and carrot, topped with a big crumbling of salty feta. You can go a little fancy here if you like, adding roasted pumpkin seeds and an orange and olive oil dressing. I made it this week paired with honey mustard chicken drumsticks.
The second salad is steamed and peeled beetroot tossed with spinach, walnuts, feta, and a mustard and honey vinaigrette. The common thread here is the pairing of beetroot (earthy, sweet, juicy) and feta (salty, creamy, sour) – it really is fabulous.
Roasted beetroot is another easy way to eat the purple gem. You can add it to a tray bake of potatoes, kūmara, and carrots – just be prepared for the beetroot to steal the show from its more mild neighbours. Also, in Eastern Europe, beetroot soup is a classic dish. In Ukraine, there’s borscht, and in Russia, svekolnik. Making some might be my end-of-beetroot-season adventure.
If salads and soups don’t excite you, another option is beetroot chocolate cake. Like carrot cake, the beetroot adds moisture, depth, and springy texture without detracting from the fact that it’s a cake – and we really just want it to taste like chocolate. This Whittaker’s recipe for chocolate beetroot cake is what I’ll be baking this weekend…and serving with a large dollop of whipped cream.
I need to eat my words on fresh beetroots, however, because there’s one place that I think beetroot truly shines as best in class: chutney. Syrup sweet, slightly tart, still with some chunky firmness, beetroot chutney is my relish of choice. If I’m making a quiche, I know something is sorely missing if I don’t also have a big pile of beetroot chutney.
Wyoming Paul is the co-founder of Grossr, and runs a weekly meal plan that connects to online supermarket shopping.
Read all the previous Ingredients of the Week here.
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