Saturday, January 23, 2021

SOME families split over political parties or religious faith. Mine split over beetroots. 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 besides just boiling them.

Beetroots – or just “beets” in the USA – do 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.

Finally, of course, you can always pickle your beetroots. Take 600g of beetroots, 300 ml of cider vinegar, 50g sugar, 200g red onion, 5g dried thyme, 5g salt, 5g oregano, and 10g black peppercorns.

Wash and peel the beetroots, cut into quarters and boil on the stove until tender. Drain the water and set in cold water, and let them set for a few minutes. Then, when they are cool enough to handle, cut them into 2mm-slices and set in a mason jar.

Then pour in the vinegar, sugar, onion, thyme, salt, oregano and peppercorns into the pot, bring to boil and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Then pour the hot liquid over the beetroot, cover it and let it seal as it cools.

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.

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