Tag Archives: beetroot

Sweet Beets

I think beetroot is one the most under-appreciated vegetables. It’s got a lot going for it – a sweet, earthy flavour and a colour that is literally shocking. But it has done rather badly thanks to the favoured British way of serving it. I mean, why would you want to use it in its lovely fresh state when you can pickle the thing in vinegar and turn it into something astringent and rather naff? I mean, why?

Well, time to change that. I love cooking with beetroot, and find that it is really versatile. It makes a great sauce for pasta or gnocchi (cooked up with cumin seeds, cream and fresh dill), sensational hot and cold soups and beetroot juice gives you vibrant, natural colours in savour and sweet dishes. When icing a cake, beetroot will give you one of the hottest pinks you could wish for. It can also be used in baking, making wonderful beetroot and chocolate cakes that are moist, chocolatey and nutritious. Convinced yet?

One of the easiest things to make is a Swedish-style beet and apple salad. Worth making for the stunning colour alone. My timing is also spot on – tomorrow is Sweden’s national day, so the country will be awash with flags, smörgåsbord and (probably) beetroot salad.

beet_salad_1

This salad is just apple and beetroot, finished off with a little onion, sour cream and seasoning. It is by turns fruity, savoury, creamy and fresh. It is also incredibly easy to make – just chop-chop, mix-mix, and you have a colourful and delicious summery salad, which is great with a light lunch or as part of a brunch spread. This is my take on the version served at London’s Scandinavian Kitchen – I was too shy to ask them for their recipe (which I would imagine is secret anyway) so I’ve tried to re-create this so I can get my fix in the meantime.

beet_salad_2

This makes a good lunch served alongside other Scandinavian delights like dill potato salad, crispbread and goodies like meat and fish.

To make Swedish beetroot and apple salad:

• 4 medium beetroot
• 4 crisp apples, peeled and cored
• salt, to taste
• pepper, to taste
• 1/2 small white onion, very finely chopped
• sour cream (use a 300ml pot)
• dill, to finish

1. Cook the beetroot – drop them whole into boiling water, cover and simmer until the beets are tender (around an hour). Drain and leave to cool (this is a good thing to do the day before).

2. Peel the cold beets – trim off and discard the top and bottom, and use the back of a knife to rub off the skin – it should just come off without the need to cut the beets. Once peeled, cut the beets into small chunks and put into a large bowl.

3. Peel and core the apples, cutting into small cubes. Add to the beets.

4. Add the onion, salt and pepper to the beets, plus as much sour cream as you like. You want the beets and apple to be well-coated, but not swimming in cream. Stir well until everything is shocking pink. Enjoy cold, and watch your tongue change colour!

Worth making? This is a straightforward summer recipe – easy, fresh and delicious. Recommended!

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Beetroot Caviar

New Year, new challenges. And strange as it may sound, I am intrigued by the idea of caviar. It is one of those foods that are seen as impossibly glamorous and thus very expensive, and things like amber salmon roe do look pretty. However, I am also not that into the idea of even trying it – I mean, it’s basically fish eggs! Yuk…

That aside, I recently came across an intriguing technique  that allows you to make small spheres out of pretty much anything by using like (see here). Basically you just mix agar agar with your liquid of choice, then allow it to cool, fill a pipette, and let drops fall into a tall glass of chilled vegetable oil. At this point, chemistry and physics take over. As the droplets are denser than the oil, they sink to the bottom of the glass. The almost-set agar solution coupled with the chilled oil means that the droplets set, and you end up with a glass filled with lots and lots of little spheres. As the oil also acts to prevent all the spheres lumping together into a single mass, you end up with something that looks pretty amazing indeed. In my case, I used beetroot juice, and ended up with a mass of garnet-like pearls.

I used this technique at a recent dinner to make canapés – I used small Dutch buckwheat pancakes (poffertjes) as blinis, added some of the beet caviar, then topped at the last minute with sour cream and dill. I think they looked rather jolly, and they were certainly something unexpected from a vegetarian kitchen!

beetcaviar

This technique looks a little like the molecular gastronomy technique of mixing liquids and powers to produce liquid pearls that burst on the tongue, but it’s great for the novice like me, as the use of agar agar makes the process easier, and the result is more robust – as the spheres are made from a gel, they can happily be rinsed, moved around and even stored until the next day.

As an aside, I’ve tried using the more “scientific” approach to spherification using sodium alginate and calcium lactate. It was a disaster. I had grand plans to present a spoon with pearls of Swedish akvavit topped with dill as a palate cleanser during a dinner. Great in theory, but I used the wrong powders in the wrong order, and the whole lot ended up as a bit of a mess in a bowl, and I managed to achieve little other than wasting some perfectly good akvavit. I doubt I’ll be trying that technique again…

My approach might be a bit more low-tech, but it works for me and I love the result. I think I’ll be inflicting fake caviar in various guises on various people for the foreseeable future. However, I’ve learned a couple of things that are worth keeping in mind.

First, what flavour are you going for? You’re not going to be consuming these spheres in huge quantities, so it’s worth going for ingredients that offer a bit of a flavour hit. Remember that the agar agar makes a gel rather than holding a liquid, so you won’t get a pop and a burst of something as you might get with molecular gastronomy techniques. If a flavour is mild, you might want to allow it to concentrate down before use. You may also want to think about the oil you use – I opted for flavourless sunflower oil, but olive oil might be a good idea if you want that flavour to come across in whatever dish you are making.

Next, how much agar agar should you use? I tried this with half a teaspoon per half-cup of liquid, and you get very soft spheres. I found that one teaspoon of flakes worked better (note – flakes, not powder!). However, while these were more robust, they still went ever so slightly out of shape when left overnight in the fridge. I didn’t mind, but if you really want spheres that hold their shape, you might even want to increase the amount of agar agar you use.

Finally, think about colour. I used pure beetroot juice, which does make the most wonderful deep ruby-red spheres. However, if you go for something this intense, remember that the colour of the juice will affect other ingredients, so be warned that if you want to put this on top of blinis with sour cream, the tell-tale beetroot pink colour will start to appear after a few minutes. However, you may prefer to go for lighter hues so that they catch the light. Whatever you prefer!

To make beetroot caviar:

• vegetable oil
• 120ml beetroot juice (or other liquid)
• 1 teaspoon agar agar flakes

1. Fill a tall glass with vegetable oil. Chill in the freezer for around 40 minutes.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the juice and the agar agar flakes. Bring to the boil, whisking occasionally, then boil for two minutes. Remove from the heat, take the oil from the freezer, and allow the agar agar mixture to cool to just lukewarm but still liquid.

3. Using a pipette, allow drops of the liquid to fall into the chilled oil. They will sink and form spheres! (If the agar agar mixture gets too thick, you will need to re-boil the liquid. If you just use the liquid as it gets thick, the resulting spheres will be too fragile).

4. Remove the spheres with a spoon, or pour everything through a sieve. Use however you want! You can save the oil and re-use for cooking or more spherification.

Worth making? This is a really fun challenge to try your hand at in the kitchen. There is an element of trial-and-error in getting quantities to work if you’ve got something specific in mind, but the results are superb and allow you to make some really smart-looking dishes.

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Oh, mon amour! Risotto aux betteraves rouges

Ah, ’tis nearly Valentine’s day! Blink, and you might miss it. Seem like only yesterday that all the Christmas decorations were up(*) but the local stores are already awash with chocolate Easter eggs. I am constantly amused how you can check the time of the year by the range of sweets and goodies on offer at the till.

Now, I could have made some form of heart-shaped biscuits or chocolates, or a red cupcake, but that would be (1) predictable, and (2) against the spirit of blogging more savoury dishes. Not to miss out on the luuuurve that is in the air at this time of year, I’ve produced something that is perfect for a romantic dinner with that special someone, and also keeps the red theme going. Just be sure that the relevant special someone likes beetroot.

This really is just a simple risotto, but chopped beetroot goes in with the first ladle of stock to make sure the colour is a vibrant dark magenta, and a few tweaks at the end of the cooking process to play on the flavour and colour of the beetroot.

The key thing is to use fresh beetroot, rather than the stuff that comes preserved in vinegar. I feel that it’s almost too obvious to point out, but something that has been sitting in acid for weeks and weeks is not going to be your best friend in a risotto. I appreciate that I am not speaking from experience here, and by all means give it a bash if you think that it would work, but it strikes me as a flavour combination I could happily miss. And really – who serves their beloved a plate of vinegar? But…that being said…a slight sharpness does work with beetroot, so I actually add a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar at the end, just to add the tiniest hint of sharpness. Just a touch though!

But let’s face it, the reason for making this is just the fantastic colour. It looks utterly stunning, and quite amazing to think this is completely natural. When I add the beetroot, I chop into a combination of larger and smaller pieces, so that you can still see the darker beetroot (which ends up looking like the dish is studded with garnets) next to the vibrant red rice. If you prefer, grate the beetroot – you’ll get more colour, but you’ll also have pink juice everywhere. Up to you…

To top this, I add a light sprinkling of Parmesan cheese (not too much, don’t hid the colour), plus some toasted pumpkin seeds and a little chopped chives. Their green colours contrast with the redness, and the flavours play well with the beetroot. However, toasted pine nuts and/or a light sprinkling of fresh dill would also work well.

(*) In fact, a certain house down our street seems to be stuck on 24 December, with the plastic tree still in the window…I’ve checked, and there are people alive in there, so not to worry.


To serve 4 (or 2, with lots left over):

• 25g butter
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 250g arborio rice
• 1 glass dry white wine
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 litre vegetable stock
• 300g beetroot, boiled, peeled and finely chopped or grated
• 50g Parmesan cheese
• 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
• 2 tablespoons cream

Warm the butter and olive oil in a pan. Add the onion and fry gently over a low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Add the rice and fry for 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Add the wine, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the rice seems “oily”. Tip in the beetroot and black pepper, and add the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add more when the previous addition has almost evaporated. The rice will start as light pink, but will change to a deep reddish-pink towards the end.

Once all the stock has been added, cook the risotto to the desired consistency (some like it runny, some like it thick). Add the Parmesan cheese, stir well, and remove from the heat. Stir in the cream and balsamic vinegar and allow to sit for two minutes with the pot covered.

Serve with a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan and a scattering of toasted pine nuts or pumpkin seeds, and a scattering of chopped chives or dill.

Worth making? I love risotto anyway, but this one looks stunning on the plate and has a fabulous flavour. The beetroot and dill make it a little more unusual, but I think this is a great combination.

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Beetroot with Yoghurt and Lemon Relish

Finally, I have made something savoury! This is a salad from Ottolenghi’s new cook book Plenty – a beetroot salad with a fresh lemon-tomato relish and served with a swirl of Greek yoghurt. I need a few new summer staples, and this recipe just called out for me to try it.

I really love beetroot. The colour is amazing and it always brightens up dishes (and actually makes a good natural food dye if you like things hot pink), and the flavour is delicious. At the moment, the market stalls are starting to see baby beetroot. These are wonderfully sweet, and I can happily cook them and eat them on their own. You also get two vegetables in one – the familiar root, and the leaves, which are bright green traced with pink.

My opinion is that beetroot combines wonderfully with yoghurt and dill, so for me this recipe is perfect. You start by preparing a tomato-based relish, which includes corriander, dill, roasted bell peppers and lemon, so it has lots of flavours. However, rather than mixing the sauce, beetroot and yoghurt and ending up with a Pepto-Bismol effect, just spoon the salad and the yoghurt into a serving dish and swirl slightly for a pretty raspberry-ripple effect. This looked amazing in the late evening sunshine – the colour of garnets, with flecks of red, green and yellow and flashes of creamy-white – and it was a big hit with my diners too.

For the recipe, see here. I found this quite easy to follow – I cooked the beetroot the evening before, so the next day I just had to make the tomato sauce and allow it to cool before combining everything.

However, I did make two improvisations – I didn’t have any preserved lemon, so I used the skin of a fresh lemon, which I cut into small pieces, and soaked in lemon juice and salt for half an hour. This tasted good, but I think if I were to make this again, I would just use the zest of 1/2 lemon in place of the preserved lemon, rather than chopped peel. Ah well, live and learn! Secondly, I added the herbs (parsley, corriander and dill) to the cold tomato sauce, so that they would not cook and thus would keep their freshness. And it worked!

Worth making? If you have the time or are organised to plan ahead, then this is a great dish to prepare, and it makes a lovely change from “normal” beetroot salads. Just make sure to get the relish right for your tastes. However, the time you need means that you can’t magic this up at short notice, which is worth knowing if you’ve got to pull together  dish in a hurry. But this one I will make again.

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