Beetroot is a much-maligned magenta marvel that is having a well-deserved renaissance. Put away your preconceptions and get grating, spicing and baking.
These earthy, bright purple roots add a resplendent splash of colour to almost anything they are added to.
But for all their photogenic appeal people are still tentative about tackling beetroot. It may be, in part, bad childhood associations with them as crinkle-cut and pickled, or an aversion to the particular soil-like sweetness. No doubt the powerful magenta colour is a factor too, could there be fewer things as threatening to a crisp white t-shirt?
But beetroot, cooked and paired well, can be a revelation with a few easy tips to unlock its culinary potential.
Here a few ideas, beyond boiling and roasting, to win over the most diehard sceptic.
Although a potentially messy undertaking, grating your beets is useful two main ways. The first is that it can speed the cooking process up no end. You instantly have more surface area for the heat to work on so you can cook it down swiftly in a pan as the base of a pasta sauce or risotto, or fashion it into rustic rostis ready for the frying pan.
The second is that it makes eating them raw a more palatable prospect. Making them a vivid complement to a well-dressed slaw or a savoury sauerkraut and leaving no challenging lumps or chunks to contend with.
Fire and spice
We tend to think of beetroot’s dark earthy character being reflected in accompanying flavours – horseradish, walnuts, juniper, carraway, smoked fish, wine vinegars and the usual array of warm winter spices. What feels less intuitive, but are equally complimentary, are the bright, fiery, zingy flavours associated with South-East Asian and Indian cooking.
The beetroot acts as a steady bass note over which the fragrance of ginger, lemon grass, lime and coconut can all play, and will carry a hefty kick of chilli and spice too. It could be as simple as a little coconut and a swirl of Thai curry paste in a soup to a full-blown curry with an aromatic spice mix.
There has always been a blurred line between savoury and sweet, but whereas we are happy with a pinch of salt in a caramel or the grown-up bitterness of marmalade and dark chocolate, most people will raise an eyebrow when vegetables are offered into the mix. The most obvious exception to the rule is a carrot cake and you can use beetroot in just the same way to add some body, bulk and moisture to a cake mix. Its natural sweetness helps, and the added colour can be striking too.
Beetroot and chocolate work surprising wonders together and it can bolster rather than bully, especially in a squidgy brownie mix or rich mousse cake. You can even use some in a traditional fruit smoothie where it can temper excessive sharpness or sweetness and add to a fortifying sense of getting your Five-A-Day.