Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Mighty Beetroot

These pink and white striped Chioggia are as pretty as they are delicious.

Anthony and my Vegetable Garden.

I am new to proper vegetable growing, up until three years ago my only outside space was a tiny, very shady London garden. I managed to grow runner beans in a flower bed between the Hellebores and Dicentra, a few (mostly green) tomatoes and radishes in pots on my terrace, lots of herbs, but nothing much else. 
I was restricted by lack of space, time and sun but most importantly lack of knowledge and experience. 

This year we replaced our (new to us) but very old, rotten and falling down greenhouse with a new one and added cold frames and turned a big muddy expanse outside the kitchen window into a proper vegetable garden with raised beds and gravel paths. 

However, the reason I have a flourishing vegetable garden is not because I now have space, sun and paid help but because of Next-Door-Anthony. I Lord it around with a trug and trowel, waggling seed packets of things I want to grow and sometimes even a hose, but the success of every single vegetable we’ve grown is entirely down to him. I don’t think there is one thing I have learnt about vegetables since last March, when we started, that hasn’t been spoon fed to me by Anthony. He is not a gardener by trade, he’s a builder but he is the most green fingered person I have ever met, has been growing vegetables for 40 odd years and shares my fervent interest in cooking, eating and growing them. In the same way most people discuss politics or religion we discuss the merits of various beans, tomatoes and beetroot. 

A trug full of Chioggia.

This year's beetroot varieties: 

Bull's Blood, Chioggia, Golden Burpee

I absolutely love Beetroot, but I think it’s a bit like the Royal family, it divides opinion - you either love it or don’t see the point.
My daughter Mary recently asked  “Why would I eat something that tastes like dirt with sugar?” 
But that’s exactly why I find it delicious - its earthy sweetness. 

Beetroot, as well as being incredibly pretty, both in the vegetable garden and on your plate, is also very forgiving. I don’t know if this is normal (never having grown it before), but I have beetroot that has sat quietly in the ground since August without swelling to some fantastic and inedible size, all that seems to have happened is it’s stayed fresh and perky, ready to be picked whenever I have a fancy for it.

One last reason to love beetroot is you really can eat all of it. I treat the leaves exactly like spinach, raw or wilted - either way they’re great.

Below are 3 easy recipes

The first is from one of my very favourite restaurants, Morito in Exmouth Market (the cafe style establishment and little sibling to the wonderful Moro restaurant next door).
Occasionally when I’ve eaten there I’ve seen Samantha or Samuel Clark (the head chefs and owners of both) working in the open kitchen and I feel genuinely star struck. I honestly don’t think I’d care if I saw George Clooney or Lady Gaga - but those two? I’m weak with admiration...

Beetroot Borani 

Serves 6-8 as a first course


500g of Beetroot

400g Full-fat Greek yoghurt

3 tblsp Olive oil

1 Clove of crushed garlic

Small bunch of dill

1/2 packet of Feta cheese

A handful of shelled pistachios (optional)

Scrubbed and ready to roast

Roasted beetroot. These took about 50 minutes at 190c


Boil or roast the beetroots whole till easily pierced with a skewer.
Remove the skin and cut into rough chunks.
Grind in a blender with the olive oil, yoghurt, garlic and seasoning.
Spoon into a dish and scatter dill fronds, pistachios and crumbled feta on top.
Serve with flat bread or crudites
Tastes as good as it looks and SO EASY
Morito serve theirs with walnuts not pistachios, but I prefer the taste and look of pistachios. If you decide to halve the quantities don’t be tempted to use the whole clove of garlic, it’s too much.

Beetroot and Pomegranate Salad with Pomegranate Molasses.

Pomegranate molasses has a sour almost citrus flavour and is lovely with the sweetness of the roasted beetroot.
I used half Chioggia and half Bull's Blood in my salad.


300g Beetroot 
A handful of Pomegranate seeds 
1 tblsp Pomegranate molasses
2 tblsp Extra virgin olive oil
2 tblsp Lemon juice
A handful of Mint and Coriander leaves chopped.

Roast the beetroot until easily pierced with a skewer, peel and cut into large dice.
Whisk together the Pomegranate molasses and lemon juice then add the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. 

Stir through the beetroot with the pomegranate seeds, mint and coriander. 
Sprinkle extra pomegranate seeds, mint and coriander on top.

Particularly good with chargrilled lamb or smoked fish.

Beetroot and Quince Soup with Horseradish Creme Fraiche

Love the colours. I have A LOT of quinces....

Serves 4
500g Beetroot peeled and sliced
50g Quince peeled and sliced
2 Medium onions sliced
3 Tblsp Olive oil
1 Red chilli deseeded and finely sliced
2 Bay leaves
750ml Chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Peeled Chioggia. The stripes disappear when cooked.


Soften the onion and chilli in the olive oil until translucent.
Add the beetroot, quince, bay leaf and stock and simmer until very soft.

Remove the bay leaf, liquidize and adjust the seasoning.
Strain the soup by pouring into your biggest sieve and stirring with a spoon until you’re left with about 1/4 of the pulp in the sieve which you discard.

Keep the (now thinner) soup below. This sounds like a big hassle but it’s easy and quick and improves the texture of the finished soup which is fairly grainy due to the addition of the quince.
Re heat and serve with a dollop of

Horseradish Creme Fraiche

Mix together:
4 tblsp Creme fraiche
2 tsp freshly grated horseradish
Salt and freshly ground pepper
The heat of the horseradish and lactic acidity/sourness of the creme fraiche balances out the sweetness of the soup. If you can’t get fresh horseradish try a squeeze of wasabi paste instead. 

The finished soup is a delicate pink

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