Every Saturday morning at the local markets these big, beautiful purple bulbs stare at me from in between the leeks and fennel. They look good, are a healthy vegetable, and can be made into so many dishes! But what is a beetroot? And where did it come from?
In my research about beetroot I came across this amazing article that delves back into 800BC when the beetroot was first mentioned in Assyrian text – which is now the Middle East.
“Around 800 BC, the beet was mentioned in an Assyrian text as growing in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and offered to the sun god Apollo in the temple of Delphi by the Greeks…”
If it’s good enough for the Sun God it must be good enough for us mortals.
Beetroot was also consumed for medicinal purposes through the Roman era as a laxative or to relieve fever, although I think the properties and what a beetroot looks like has changed dramatically since 25BC.
The purple or yellow bulbs grow in rich soil in places such as Cambridge in the UK providing a good source of vitamin C and magnesium among other things. So how do you cook beetroot that’s simple and easy?
My favourite way to eat beetroots is to roast them with a bit of oil, salt, pepper and fresh thyme. I usually wrap the beetroot up in some aluminium foil to help it steam a little while it’s roasting. The juices from the beet and oil help it cook quicker all the way through.
With or without the foil, on a baking tray and into the oven they go for around 40 minutes. You want the temperature to be pretty high at 180-200C because the beets are quite dense and do take longer than a potato or carrot to roast.
If you’re doing some mini roasts or chicken kiev the beets can go in at the same time as the meat (or mushroom for an amazing umami flavour. They go so well with sweet potato and if you put them in the foil don’t even need rotating!)
If you’re feeling fancy try pureeing the beetroots to make a nice dip for guests.
Steaming the beetroot definitely takes much less time but be warned! If you are one of those efficient cookers and like putting pasta, rice, or potatoes to boil while veggies are steaming they will turn purple!
Even if you put some baking paper in the bottom of the steamer the water will still turn purple. If you’re a fan of the Phantom I don’t think you will have a problem with purple potatoes but otherwise be wary.
Simply chop them up into small-medium sized chunks so they fit in you steamer and let them go for 15 minutes. Pierce them with your fork to see if they’ve softened and wa-lah! A healthy side dish.
If you don’t eat them all don’t worry, they will keep in the fridge in a container but probably not as long as the tinned beets with high amounts of sugar to preserve the vegetable.
Beetroot leaves are often used in ‘fancy’ salads or as micro herbs to provide a little colour and freshness to the plate. They are also pretty much FREE when you buy the beets with their stems – what a bargain!
Save some space in the fridge by cutting them off from the beet, getting rid of most of their stems and giving them a wash under cold water. Let them sit on a tea towel for a bit or dab them dry before chopping them into a container and popping them into the fridge.
The leaves will store for about a week and will look amazing with some feta, roast beetroot and pine nuts in a quick salad. They’re very prominent through the winter but can usually be bought all year round at the markets.
All in all three different ways to have beetroot like a God!