Rehabilitating the Beetroot

Jack Hughes 20 October 2020

I am evangelical in my quest to spread the word about beetroot. From its darkly alluring crimson hue to its sublime velvety texture, it is a vegetable that has me in rapture. And yet it is a much maligned ingredient in the world of the home cook – when I asked my friends about it, they said it was too boring, too fussy to prepare, and altogether not that delicious. Why is no one root-ing for the beet (forgive me, I couldn’t help myself)? I think it has something to do with childhood experiences, when beetroot came out of a jar drenched in vinegar, unbearably acetic and sweet at the same time. I remember my dad buying jars of the stuff to accompany roast dinners and the like, fantastically retro as the beetroot bore a crinkle-cut pattern.

From its darkly alluring crimson hue to its sublime velvety texture, it is a vegetable that has me in rapture.

In spite of its lowly position in the home kitchen, beetroot has witnessed a surprising renaissance over the past few years in restaurants, where it has been puréed, crisped, and foamed to within an inch of its life. Whilst I understand its deep earthy charm, I am always cynical about a chef’s need to process a vegetable in four different ways on one plate of food. Alongside parsnips and other root veg, beetroot has been put upon by overreaching gastronomes with no eye for simplicity.

Hence why the beetroot deserves to be rehabilitated. We must raise its status beyond pickled accompaniment whilst avoiding turning it into a ‘food trend.’ Beetroot’s earthy flavour is becoming of its versatility; sweet or savoury, it lends itself to multiple dishes where it is the star of the show. Sure, most of us have heard of borscht, that East European shockingly pink soup made from beetroot and smetana, yet there are so many other possibilities to explore. Below you’ll find four of my favourite ways to cook beetroot, ranging from mezze-style dips to punchy main courses and even a beetrooty pud.

 


BEETROOT AND SUMAC HUMMUS (SERVES 4)

As a 21 year old student, how could I not include a recipe for beetroot hummus? To leave it out would have been criminal. Yes, classic hummus is perfection, however, beetroot adds a texture that makes the hummus even more silky. What is more, it brings a sweetness that counteracts the lemon juice so wonderfully. Because I love that interplay between sweet and sour so much, I’ve added some ground sumac to the recipe, a Middle Eastern spice derived from dried berries that is sensationally citrusy. If you can’t find any, I would be tempted to throw in some paprika for its smoky resonance.

INGREDIENTS

2 vacuum-packed beetroot, roughly chopped
200g chickpeas
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp tahini
1 garlic clove
Salt, to taste
1 tsp sumac
½ tsp dried chilli flakes

METHOD

In a food processor, whizz together the chickpeas, tahini, garlic, salt, chilli, lemon, and sumac until you have a thick, rough paste.

To the paste, add the chopped beetroot and blend again to a smooth consistency. If you wanted a looser dip, you could add a couple of spoonfuls of natural yoghurt.

To serve, I suggest decanting the hummus to a pretty bowl and sprinkling it with more of that citrusy sumac. A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil would not be remiss, either.

 


SRI LANKAN BEETROOT CURRY (SERVES 2)

This curry is ferociously hot and incredibly aromatic – if you like your food bland, look away now.

INGREDIENTS

1 tbsp oil
½ tbsp fennel seeds
½ tbsp mustard seeds
3 curry leaves
½ tsp ground cardamom
3 curry leaves
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp salt
1 250g pack of vacuum-packed beetroot, chopped into chunky slices
75ml coconut milk

METHOD

Heat the oil in a pan until it is very hot. Add the fennel seeds and mustard seeds, frying them over a medium heat until they start to splutter. At this point, add the curry leaves, chilli, and onion – let these ingredients fry over a medium heat for 10 minutes until golden brown.

Once your onions are slightly caramelised, add the chilli powder and the beetroot. Pour in 300ml water, season with salt, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir the coconut milk through the curry and simmer again for another 5 minutes until the curry is unctuous. Season with more salt if necessary and serve!

 


BEETROOT AND GOATS’ CHEESE RISOTTO

Sharp, salty goats’ cheese is paired with sweet, earthy beetroot – authentically Italian this risotto is not, however its flavours are without doubt the real deal.

INGREDIENTS

1 250g pack vacuum-packed beetroot
½ litre stock (chicken or vegetable)
1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
200g arborio rice
Thyme (optional)
75ml dry white wine
Salt and pepper
100g sharp goats’ cheese, crumbled

METHOD

In a blender, whizz together half the beetroot with the stock, decant into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Finely chop the remaining beetroot and set aside.

Over a medium heat, heat the oil and butter and sweat the finely chopped onion until translucent, then add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes.

Once the onion and garlic are soft, stir in the risotto rice and slick it in the oil and butter of the onions.

Over a high heat, add the white wine and cook for a couple of minutes until the alcohol has evaporated and you are left with only the wine’s flavour.

Turn the heat down to medium and add a ladleful of the simmering beetroot stock. Stir the stock into the rice, allowing it to absorb all the liquid. Once you have reached this stage, repeat with the rest of the stock, adding ladleful by ladleful whilst continually stirring. This process should take around 20 minutes – you’ll know the rice is ready when it is creamy, but still has a bite.

Take off the heat, beat in the chopped beetroot and butter, then season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice too should it need it.

Serve in bowls topped with the crumbled goats’ cheese.

 


BEETROOT CARDAMOM HALWA (SERVES 2)

This pudding is a take on the Indian confection gajar ka halwa, a carrot-based dessert that is traditionally served at festivals such as Diwali, Holi and Eid al-Fitr. Originating from the times of the Mughal empire, this dessert is is opulent and fit for any special occasion. The name ‘halwa’ comes from the Arabic for ‘sweet’, an etymology that sums the dish up perfectly – for those with a sweet tooth, it is heaven, but for those who don’t, it could be a little tooth-chatteringly cloying. Here beetroot replaces the usual carrot base for a decidedly earthier take on this South Asian classic.

INGREDIENTS

1 raw beetroot, peeled and grated
1 tbsp ghee/clarified butter
225ml milk
1 ½ tbsp caster sugar
¼ tsp ground cardamom
A handful of chopped pistachios, to serve

METHOD

Heat the ghee/clarified butter in a saucepan over a low heat until melted.

Add the grated beetroot to the saucepan and fry for 5 minutes whilst continually stirring.

Pour in the milk, bring to a boil and allow to simmer for around 20 minutes. You want a thick, glossy texture to this so make you stir regularly – it would be very easy for the mixture to catch.

Add the sugar, continuing to stir – as the liquid evaporates from this mixture, it will get thicker and thicker.

Next, stir in the ground cardamom. Let the halwa cook for only a couple minutes more.

Divide between two bowls, adorn with chopped pistachios and dig in!