Beetroots became famous in the endurance world a few years ago when it was proved that the nitrates in them can enhance stamina and lower blood pressure. The wheelchair racing legend David Weir declared beetroot juice his secret weapon when he won four gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympics.
It’s tempting for athletes to reach immediately for beetroot juice to take advantage of its performance-enhancing properties. But this means you’re missing out on the wonders of beetroot as a vegetable, which is sweet, versatile, and tasty. Many people use only the roots, but the stems and leaves can be eaten too, and are delicious just lightly fried in olive oil.
Beetroots are good sources of fibre, antioxidants, folic acid and manganese. We often hear that green leafy vegetables and colourful vegetables are good for us. If you eat the leaves too, beetroot ticks both these boxes.
If you’re not very familiar with beetroot, pickled or vinegared beetroot may be the first thing that springs to mind. This has a sharp, acidic taste which understandably tends to put people, especially children, off eating beetroot. But there are many other delicious ways to eat beetroot, for example raw in salads, roasted, or pureed. Slow, patient cooking really brings out the sweet, earthy flavour.
Remember my sweet potato cake from a few weeks back? Try substituting grated beetroot for the mashed sweet potato in that recipe for a delicious, pink-tinged cake!
One large beetroot or two small ones
One medium-sized carrot
Half a celery stick
Half a vegetable stock cube
• Wash and peel if necessary, then chop all your vegetables.
• Fry the onion on a medium heat in olive oil for five minutes, stirring regularly. Add the other vegetables and fry for five minutes, continuing to stir regularly. Reduce the heat to low and continue frying for another five minutes. This process brings depth and flavour so try not to rush it.
• Make stock according to the cube instructions and add to the pan until it just covers all the vegetables; simmer on a low heat for five minutes.
• Leave for a few hours to cool then puree in a blender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with a spoon of sour cream and garnish on top. (I have made this soup with just the onion and beetroot which is a simpler and quicker version but also delicious!)
Beetroot and apple coleslaw
One small beetroot
One small carrot
Half an apple, cored
One tablespoon of raisins
Handful of pumpkin seeds and soya beans
Dressing: one tablespoon each of mayonnaise and plain yoghurt. One teaspoon each of lemon juice and chopped mint, salt and pepper
• Make the dressing by mixing everything together and set aside.
• Peel the beetroot and carrot, then grate them coarsely, along with the apple. Add the raisins and dressing and mix well.
• Place in a serving dish and sprinkle the seeds and beans on top. (Traditional coleslaw has a lot of mayonnaise in it – my recipe is quite light on the mayo by using yoghurt too.)
Roasted root vegetables
One large beetroot, carrot and parsnip
Two cloves garlic, peeled and roughly sliced
A few sprigs rosemary
Three tablespoons olive oil
• This dish is a great way to eat complex vegetable-based carbohydrates rather than grains. Simply wash, peel and chop your root vegetables into finger-sized chunks. Add the garlic, rosemary, olive oil and salt & pepper, mix well, and then place in an oven-proof baking dish.
• Cook in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 50 minutes until well-browned.
• You can use any root vegetables you have to hand with the beetroot – swedes and turnips are good alternatives.
Another of my all-time favourite dishes is beetroot tarte-tatin, a savoury variation on the traditional French apple dessert. It’s a bit too fiddly and time-consuming for lockdown cooking, but once normal life resumes, do give it a try!