Darina Allen: Sweet and savoury recipes using beetroot

Darina Allen: Sweet and savoury recipes using beetroot

Beetroot is my star of the week for this column.

A three in one Summer vegetable that goes on giving — If you haven’t had a chance to grow some of your own, swing by the local Country Market or Farmers’ Market in your area.

Choose a bunch of beautiful beets that still have healthy leaves and stalks intact.

This is a true ‘root to shoot’ vegetable. The stalks and dark magenta leaves are also delicious as well as the beetroot... we love to use them in sweet and savoury dishes and enjoy both the golden and purple at so many stages.

I pick the young thinnings to add to a salad of summer leaves or to pile on top of a pizza. We start to use the beets themselves when they are golf ball size and continue as they swell.

Roasting intensifies the natural sweetness even further but boiling the beets also works brilliantly and can be the basis of soups to stews, curries, dips and crisps and, of course, pickles.

Have you tried Russian Kvass, a deeply nourishing, lacto fermented drink, full of probiotic goodness?

It’s known for its healing and cleansing properties. Beetroot gin is super cool, how about beetroot gravalax or a beetroot cake and who doesn’t love beetroot brownies?.

We made a number of beetroot soups both hot and chilled, some are smooth and silky, others like Borscht and Chorba has lots of chunky bits — a drizzle of sour or pungent horseradish cream over the top and a sprinkling of purple chive flowers or pretty chervil blossoms to ‘guild the lily’.

This beetroot dip is irresistible, a brilliant standby to have to scoop up with pitta or as part of a mezza plate. Chunks of beetroot add deliciousness and nutrients to a tray of roast vegetables.

The Sri Lankans make some of the best vegetable curry and I featured my favourite Beetroot curry from Sunhouse in Galle on the May 25 (rebrand.ly/va7m9m).

Beetroot crisps are also irresistible, remember to cook them at 160C rather than the 180C for potato crisps.

Then there’s the bonus of the stalks and leaves from the summer beets, chop the stalks and cook in boiling salted water for a few minutes, slather with extra virgin olive oil, add freshly chopped herbs and chilli, delicious and a favourite on Fergus Henderson’s menu at St John in London.

The leaves can be cooked like spinach either in well-salted water on a frying pan over a high heat.

If you are lucky to have a glut, then let’s pickle, who doesn’t love homemade beetroot pickle?

So different to the harsh vinegary pickle of childhood memories.

It’ll last for months to embellish goats cheese, smoked fish or salads and there’s the extra feel-good factor of having pickled your own.

Check out my recipe suggestions.

Beetroot Kvass

Darina Allen: Sweet and savoury recipes using beetroot

This is a slightly sour/salty tonic of a deep-red colour known to help clean the liver and purify the blood.

  • 2 large beetroot
  • 1½ litres (2½ pints) filtered water (or non-chlorinated)
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 50ml (2fl oz) starter — this could be whey, water kefir, sauerkraut juice or kombucha

Scrub the beetroot but do not peel. Chop into small chunks — 2cm (¾ inch) cubes (roughly). Put into a 2 litre Kilner jar or something similar with a lid. Add the water, sea salt and starter and secure the lid tightly.

Allow to sit in a warming undisturbed place for about five days. Bubbles will start to appear (fermentation is taking a hold) — taste it after day three, if it is to your liking. Strain out the beetroot chunks.

Bottle and store in the fridge once it reaches the desired sourness.

Rory O’Connell’sChilled Ruby Beetroot Soup

Darina Allen: Sweet and savoury recipes using beetroot

Hopefully your decision to make this soup will coincide with a warm day, as scorching shaded lunches or long balmy evenings are the perfect weather conditions for enjoying this soup, though I can enjoy it almost as much in less clement weather conditions.

If you come across golden beetroots, they can be used in exactly the same way as the ruby variety, though they must be cooked separately as the ruby beetroot will bleed into the golden and render them pink, which would really defeat the purpose of using them in the first place.

I some times make a little of both colours and serve them swirled together though you may think that’s too horribly psychadelic.

Lots of finely chopped chives and their pretty pink flowers help to make a pretty and delicious presentation.

Save the leaves of the beets for wilting, or if small and delicate for adding to your salad bowl.

Serves 8

  • 800g (1¾lb) whole beetroot
  • 225g (8oz) chopped onions
  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • Salt, pepper and sugar
  • Approx 1.2 litre (2 pints) of light chicken stock
  • 150ml (5fl oz) pouring
  • 300ml (10 fl oz) natural, unsweetened yoghurt
  • 4 tbsp of chopped chives and chive flowers if available

Wash the beets under a cold running tap with your hands being careful not to break the skin.

Leave the little tail on and about 5cm (2 inches) of the stalks intact so as not to allow the beets to bleed.

Place in a saucepan that they fit snugly into and cover with boiling water. Add a pinch of salt and sugar.

Cover, bring to the boil and simmer until the beets are cooked. The cooking time depends on the size and they can take anything from 20 minutes for tiny little beets to 2 hours for larger ones.

They are cooked when the skin rubs off really easily. Don’t use a knife to test if they are cooked, as this will also cause bleeding.

While the beets are cooking, melt the butter and allow to foam. Add the onions, coat in the butter, cover tightly and sweat very gently until soft, tender and uncoloured.

When the beets are cooked, peel, chop coarsely and add to the onions.

Add just enough boiling chicken stock to cover and season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for just 1 minute.

Now purée to achieve a smooth and silky consistency. Allow to cool completely. Add yoghurt and a little cream to taste.

Check seasoning adding a little sugar if necessary.

Serve chilled with a swirl of yoghurt and lots of chopped chives and a few chive flowers if available.

Pickled Beetroot

Darina Allen: Sweet and savoury recipes using beetroot

Serves 5-6

  • 1 lb (450g) cooked beetroot
  • 8 oz (225g) sugar
  • 16 fl oz (475ml) water
  • 8 fl oz (250ml) white wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 3-4 minutes.

Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled sliced beets and leave to cool.

Beetroot Crisps

Darina Allen: Sweet and savoury recipes using beetroot

You can make vegetable crisps from a variety of different vegetables: parsley, celeriac, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes of course.

But you need to be careful with the ones that are very high in sugar, because they need to be cooked at a lower temperature, otherwise they’ll be dark and bitter.

Serves about 8

  • A few raw beetroots, small to medium-sized
  • Oil in a deep-fat
  • Salt

Use a vegetable peeler to peel the beetroot. Then slice on a mandolin into paper-thin slices.

Leave them to dry out on kitchen paper (this may take several hours).

You want them to be dry, otherwise they’ll end up being soggy when you cook them.

Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 140C (275F) and cook slowly, a few at a time.

Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt.


Tempting market produce

The produce at the Farmers Markets and Country Markets is unbearably tempting at present, an abundance of fresh vegetables, currants and berries.

You’ll find lobsters at Midleton Farmers Market too, Heirloom pork, floury local potatoes.

When you buy at a Farmers’ Market you support your local community and meet the people who grow and produce the food that nourishes your family.

Glyphosate study seeking volunteers

The Austrian government recently banned glyphosate products because of a growing fear worldwide that it could cause cancer.

Here in Ireland researchers at NUI in Galway are seeking families to participate in a study to measure exposure to the herbicide glyphosate.

They are collecting urine samples from 50 non-farm families and 50 farm families to analyse them for traces of glyphosate.

The research is being done in conjunction with the Institute of Prevention and Occupational Medicine in Bochum in Germany. Interested parties should contact NUI Galway directly.

Heirloom tomatoes

Many readers who have tasted juicy, home-grown, organic heirloom tomatoes during the past few weeks have been asking how to source the seeds so they can grow some of their own next year.

Brown Envelope Seeds in West Cork (www.brownenvelopeseeds.com) have a wide variety of cultivars but check out Irish Seed Savers also (www.irishseedsavers.ie).

The National Organic Training Skillsnet in Co Leitrim also run seed saving classes to teach you how to save the seeds of your organic produce.

For class schedule go see here.

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