This month I'd like to praise beetroot. Thanks to the various micro-climates around Aotearoa, we can enjoy these beautifully coloured vegetables in all their glorious hues.
I'm lucky to be living in Taranaki, and have a weekly vegetable box delivered to my door from a local grower, Six Acres Farm. Orchardist Karla always has an array of different types of beets growing from cioggia (the pink candystriped one) to golden and white (albino) to the everyday dark red type we are more familiar with. Each week, I get to experiment, playing around with the flavour profiles to create something new each time.
Beetroot can be polarising, and I often hear people say they don't like them, but I think this is because they might not be cooking them right.
I think this bad rep is down to two factors. One, they are too often overcooked, so any flavour, nutrition or goodness is boiled straight out of them. And two, they have an earthy taste, so it's down to a bit of balancing with other ingredients to create more harmony for the taste buds.
When I lived in the UK, I missed adding beetroot to burgers. There's nothing more New Zealand than tucking a few slices in a fish, beef, or vege patty in a bun, then stacking it with lots of fresh ingredients. Below is a pickled beetroot recipe to get you on your way - I'll leave the stacking to you.
Sliced pickled beets
Makes 2-3x 250ml jars
450-500g beetroot bulbs
500ml good-quality white wine vinegar
40g raw granulated sugar
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp black peppercorns
½ tsp mustard seeds
¼ tsp chilli flakes
1 bay leaf
1. Clean the jars and lids with hot soapy water and rinse well. Drip dry upside down, then place in a low oven (100C), for 20 minutes.
2. Wash, peel and slice the beetroot into 1-2mm thick discs. Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, spices and bay leaf to a boil in a large pot. Lower the heat to a simmer, stirring, to dissolve the sugar and salt. Add the beetroot slices and blanch for 1 minute.
3. Remove from the heat and stack the beet slices into your jars, packed tightly but not squashed, until they reach 5mm from the rim. Distribute the spices equally between the jars and pour in the brine. Tap jars on the bench as you go to release trapped bubbles, and completely submerge the beetroot. Fill the jars to 1mm, from the rim.
4. Seal, label, and date. Ready to eat in 2-3 weeks. These keep, unopened, in a cool dark place for up to a year. Once opened keep in the fridge and eat within 3-4 months.
Top tip: Use root to shoot - if you buy your beetroot with the stalks and leaves included, use the leaves as a lettuce substitute in an autumnal salad. To pickle the stalks, just use the brine recipe above. These stalks are delicious added to salads, homemade tacos or in a toasted cheese sandwich.
Balancing the beet
Scrub and rinse the beets. Boil whole, skins on, for 10-20 mins, depending on size. Cook till tender, but firm. Cool, rub off the skins and slice, dice or wedge. Add to a chopped peppery leaf salad - either beetroot, radish, rocket or chicory - tossed in a wholegrain mustard dressing. Crumble through a creamy, salty element like feta, burrata, mozzarella or goat's cheese. Add texture with chopped toasted hazelnuts, almonds or whole toasted pumpkin seeds, then season.