Seasonal Beetroot and how to cook them

Beetroot on plate
Image by Rameshng via Flickr

Beetroot is a much maligned and generally underrated vegetable.  It is incredibly versatile, given it’s sweet but earthy flavour, intense (and wide range of) colours and terrific texture, can be used from everything from chocolate beetroot cake to beetroot risotto, Super-nutritional sports drinks to ice cream.  A number of high profile celeb chefs have been on a mission recently to raise the profile of this vegetable – Antonio Carluccio, Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall to name but a few have been promoting its virtues, at a time when it’s in season, and in my garden at least, this year has grown exceptionally well.

So cast off your nightmare memories of the ’70s, when Beetroot were those slimy purple slices in jars which tasted of teeth-melting vinegar, and give Beetroot another chance!

One thing you do need to know is how to prepare it.  Get it wrong, and you’ll be purple for weeks and end up with a tasteless pile of slime.  Get it right and you’re left with a nutritional and intensely flavoured vegetable, which can be used for the most amazing variety of dishes

Step 1 – Initial Preparation

  • Remove any leaves by holding the root in one hand and the leaves in the other, then twisting off
  • Rinse the root under a tap to remove any dirt – use a brush to scrub lightly, but don’t break the skin
  • DO NOT under any circumstances, cut off the top, tail or be tempted to peel at this stage

Step 2 – Cooking

  • A number of alternatives available.  By far the best is to wrap each beetroot in foil, place in a roasting tin and  roast in the oven until tender (for about 40-50 minutes, maybe as much as 1hr 15mins if the roots are really large like some of mine!) at 180oC
  • If time is shore, and the roots are of an even size and not too big, you can microwave them.  This is a very effective method, although doesn’t develop the same intensity of flavour as roasting.  Place the roots in a pyrex bowl with a splash of water and cover.  Microwave for 5 minutes and remove.  Test with a fork – if soft they’re done.  If not, return for another couple of minutes.
  • Boiling is an option, but much of the flavour and colour will leach out.  Consequently this isn’t a method I can recommend
  • Steaming preserves the flavour really well, but can make a real mess of the steamer, so use with care!
  • Cooking large beetroot directly on an open fire, e.g., a bonfire or barbecue, adds a wonderful smoky effect

Step 3 – Peeling

  • Once cooked, allow the beetroot to cool slightly if you have the time
  • The easiest way to peel cooked beetroot is in the sink
  • With a sharp knife, cut off the top and tail
  • Under a running tap, hold the beetroot whilst pushing the skin with your thumbs.   If the beetroot is cooked, the skin will just fall away.  By keeping the beetroot under running water whilst peeling, your fingers won’t go so pink

You now have your beetroot, cooked to perfection, peeled and ready use.  Enjoy.

NB:  There’s no reason why you can’t eat your beetroot raw.  Yes, you will have to risk pink fingers as you peel then, but it’s great in salads and sandwiches


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