Beetroot might be an often unappreciated everyday vegetable in New Zealand, but in some countries it is a key ingredient in famous signature dishes: Eastern Europe's borscht, a hearty hot or cold soup; the USA's tangy Harvard beets; and Iran's borani chogondar, boiled beets served cold with yoghurt and mint.
Our best-known beetroot dish for many years was "salad" - boiled, sliced and served with vinegar. However, beets have become rather trendy, and different shapes and colours are beginning to feature in our dishes. Their earthy, sweet flavour is finally being appreciated.
I've planted three types of beetroot this year, including the traditional red. I'm experimenting with two newish varieties with seed purchased 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. It originated in the coastal region of the Adriatic near Chioggia in Italy, and is very sweet.
Beetroot Albino is a completely white beet 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 consumed, don't underestimate their appeal as a raw ingredient. They can be peeled and shredded or grated into salads with carrot, celery and/or red cabbage, and tossed in a good French dressing. Young beetroot leaves are also great in salads for their colour and flavour - use them as you would spinach leaves.
When cooking beetroot, leave a good three centimetres of stem and leave the skin intact, otherwise 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 improve colour and flavour.
VENISON WITH BEETROOT & RASPBERRY VINEGAR SAUCE
This tender farm-raised venison with a sweet and tangy sauce - served with a variety of vegetables - is a surefire 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 3 medium potatoes, and season with pepper and a diced shallot.
Cover and microwave 5 cups of finely sliced, washed spinach together with a tablespoon of butter until limp, then season with a dash of grated nutmeg.
Crispy kohlrabi: 3 cups finely sliced kohlrabi
2 Tbsp olive oil
Venison: 400g farm-raised venison medallions, eg Silver Fern
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil
Beetroot sauce: 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 the kohlrabi, preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Toss the kohlrabi with the olive oil. Place in a roasting pan and bake for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels.
Pat the venison dry and season well with the pepper. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium-high heat. Fry the medallions for about 3 minutes each side, depending on thickness, until medium-rare. Remove to a warm plate and tent with foil.
Add the wine and jus (or stock) to the pan and simmer for a few minutes. Add the beetroot and vinegar and heat through.
Thickly slice the venison and spoon a little of the beetroot sauce over the top.
Great served with steamed spinach topped with potato mash garnished with crispy kohlrabi. Serves 3-4.
BEETROOT & ORANGE CHUTNEY
Use gloves while preparing the beetroot. Apples can 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 cups each: red wine vinegar, sugar
Peel the beetroot and dice. (If you want a finer chutney, the beetroot can be grated using a food processor blade.) Place in a large stainless steel saucepan.
Dice the onions and grate the pears. Add to the beetroot. Finely grate the orange rind and add, together with the juice.
Tie the star anise and cinnamon stick in muslin. Add to the pan with the remaining ingredients.
Boil for about 1 hours, until the chutney has thickened. Remove the 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 the oven to 190C. Trim the stems about 1cm from the beetroot.
Place in a roasting pan with the garlic and toss to coat in the olive oil. Season and add the rosemary. Bake until tender, about 15-20 minutes depending on size, turning occasionally.
Sprinkle with the vinegar. An excellent complement to grills or roasts. Serves 4.
GLUTEN-FREE CHOCOLATE BEETROOT CAKE
300g cooked beetroot or 420g can beetroot, drained
cup each: sugar, canola oil
tsp each: vanilla essence, salt
1 cups ground cornmeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
Chocolate icing: 50g cream cheese
15g dark chocolate, melted
1 cup icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 20cm cake pan with baking paper.
Puree the drained beetroot until smooth.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the sugar and beat well. Slowly beat in the oil, until thick. Add the vanilla essence.
Stir in the sifted salt, flour, cocoa and baking powder. Fold in the beetroot.
Pour into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
To prepare the chocolate icing, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Mix in the chocolate. Sift in the icing sugar and mix well. Spread over the cake.
- The Marlborough Express