Beetroot might be an often unappreciated everyday vegetable in New Zealand but in some countries it is a key ingredient in signature dishes: Russia's borsch, a hearty hot or cold soup; the United States' tangy Harvard beets; and Iran's borani choghondar, boiled beetroot served cold with yoghurt and mint.
Our best-known beetroot dish for many years was as a "salad", having been boiled, sliced and served with vinegar. However, beets have become rather trendy and different shapes and colours are beginning to appear in our dishes. Its earthy, sweet flavour is finally being appreciated.
I've planted three types of beetroot this year, including the traditional red ones. I'm experimenting with two varieties grown from seed, bought online from Kings Seeds in Katikati.
Beetroot Chioggia red/white has a smooth light red skin while the inside has concentric rings of red and white flesh.
The beet originated in the coastal region of the Adriatic near Chioggia in Italy, and is very sweet.
Beetroot albino is a completely white beetroot with the regular sweet flavour of red beetroot. It's a great novelty item and the juices won't stain.
Although beetroot are usually cooked before being eaten, don't underestimate their appeal as a raw ingredient. Beetroot can be peeled and shredded or grated into salads with carrot, celery and red cabbage, and tossed in a good French dressing.
Young beetroot leaves are also great in salads for their colour and flavour. Use the leaves as you would use spinach. When cooking beetroot, leave the skin and at least 3cm of stem intact or it will "bleed" and lose its colour.
Large cooked beetroot can be cut into cubes or balls (use a melon baller) and tossed in butter, sugar and fresh herbs such as tarragon - excellent with dark meats such as beef and venison.
Grated cooked or raw beetroot is perfect added to meatballs or patties to increase colour and flavour.
VENISON WITH A BEETROOT & RASPBERRY VINEGAR SAUCE
This tender farm-raised venison with its sweet and tangy sauce - served with a variety of vegetables - is a sure-fire dinner party winner.
The crispy kohlrabi can be prepared several hours ahead and is a great garnish for vegetables, salads and soups. Prepare a potato mash in the usual way using three medium potatoes and season with pepper and a diced shallot.
Cover and microwave five cups of finely sliced and washed spinach with a tablespoon of butter until limp then season with a dash of grated nutmeg.
3 cups finely sliced kohlrabi
2 tbsp olive oil
400g farm-raised venison medallions eg Silver Fern
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup each: red wine, beef jus or good beef stock
1 medium cooked beetroot, cut into 2cm cubes
2-3 tbsp raspberry vinegar
To prepare kohlrabi, preheat oven to 200C.
Toss kohlrabi with olive oil.
Place in a roasting pan. Bake for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until crisp.
Remove and drain on paper towels.
Pat venison dry and season well with black pepper.
Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan on medium-high heat. Pan-fry medallions for about three minutes each side depending on thickness, until medium-rare. Remove to a warm plate and tent with foil.
Add wine and jus (or stock) to pan and simmer for a few minutes.
Add beetroot and vinegar and heat through.
Thickly slice venison medallions and spoon a little of beetroot sauce over top.
Great served with steamed spinach, topped with potato mash and garnished with crispy kohlrabi.
BEETROOT & ORANGE CHUTNEY
Use gloves while preparing the beetroot.
Apples could replace the pears in this chutney.
1.5kg raw beetroot, trimmed
3 each: onions, pears, oranges
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp each: yellow mustard seeds, finely grated root ginger
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
2 & 3/4 cups each: red wine vinegar, sugar
Peel beetroot and dice. (If you want a finer chutney then the beetroot can be grated using a food processor blade.)
Place in a large stainless steel saucepan.Dice onions and grate pears. Add to beetroot.
Finely grate orange rind and add together with the juice.
Tie star anise and cinnamon stick in muslin. Add to pan with remaining ingredients.
Boil for about 1 & 1/2 hours until chutney has thickened. Remove muslin with the spice.
Pour into hot sterilised jars and seal.
Makes about 8 cups.
BAKED BABY BEETS
12-16 baby beetroot
6 large cloves garlic, peeled
2 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
3 sprigs rosemary
1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 190C. Trim stems about 1cm from the beetroot.
Place in a roasting pan with garlic and toss to coat in the olive oil. Season and add rosemary.
Bake until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes depending on size, turning occasionally.
Sprinkle with vinegar. An excellent complement to grills or roasts.
GLUTEN-FREE CHOCOLATE BEETROOT CAKE
300g cooked beetroot, or
420g can beetroot, drained
3/4 cup each: sugar, canola oil
1/2 tsp each: vanilla essence, salt
1 & 1/4 cups ground cornmeal flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
50g cream cheese
15g dark chocolate, melted
1 cup icing sugar
Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 20cm cake pan with baking paper.
Puree the drained beetroot, until smooth.
Beat eggs in a large bowl. Add sugar and beat well. Slowly beat in oil, until thick. Add vanilla essence.
Stir in sifted salt, flour, cocoa and baking powder. Fold in beetroot.
Pour into the prepared cake pan.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
To prepare chocolate icing, beat cream cheese, until smooth.
Mix in chocolate. Sift in icing sugar and mix well. Spread over cake.