The Brilliance of Beetroot

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th November 2013
This is the first in a series of quarterly blogs on seasonal ingredients and their uses in some of the world’s best kitchens from food blogger and head of social media at Great British Chefs, Mecca Ibrahim. There’s more to beetroot than you might expect. Did you know it was used as an aphrodisiac during Roman times?  Don’t just think of this as a myth, beetroot has been found to contain high amounts of boron, which directly relate to the production of human sex hormones.  What’s more it contains trytophan which is also found in chocolate and contributes to a sense of well-being (more on chocolate and beetroot later)! Heston Blumenthal used to play a trick on customers at The Fat Duck. As a first course he would present a little rectangular jelly, one side of which was orange and the other purple. ‘I suggest you start with the orange,’ the waiter would say.  On tucking in the diner would find the ‘orange’ tasted of beetroot because it was made with golden beetroot, and the purple jelly tasted of orange because it was made with blood oranges. This little trick demonstrates amongst other things, the versatility of beetroot. The names of beetroot are as intriguing as their colours. Bull’s Blood, a variety with extremely dark leaves from the 18th century, is perhaps the most aptly named. Then there’s the Italian barbietola di Chioggia (beetroot from Chioggia), which is a pale pink, with concentric rings of darker pink inside. This variety has a delicate sweetness which is extremely tempting. Who has heard of the following beetroot varieties? Burpees Golden (orangey ones) and the more pedestrian Blankomana (white ones).  It’s no surprise that this variety and range has led to chefs experimenting with beetroot’s many flavours and colours. Although we’re mostly familiar with the ball or round variety, other beetroot shapes lend themselves to a host of gastronomic experiments.  Seek out those that are root-shaped (long and tapering) or tankard (long and not tapering). Goat’s cheese and beetroot are a well known and classic partnership. Alan Murchison, executive chef of L'Ortolan, deconstructs the combination, creating a goats cheese mousse and beetroot towers, serving this impressive starter with a black olive tuile. Simon Hulstone’s Golden Beetroot salad with goats cheese graced the plates of British Airways' business class plates during the 2012 Olympics.  Beetroot was a fitting choice for the Olympics. David Weir, one of Great Britain’s Paralympic legends, famously drank beetroot juice to give him a boost when he was flagging. Apparently, the nitrates in the vegetable boost stamina and make muscles more efficient. In addition to cheese, beetroot can be expertly matched with many meats, fish and reams of other vegetables - its earthy sweetness becomes a welcome foil to umami or sour tastes. Christoffer Hruskova shares a princely beef fillet recipe with Scandinavian undertones and salt baked beetroot with smoked bone marrow. If you don't have a smoker then you can improvise using a smoke box and steel multi-level steamer. Venison would also make a great substitute for the beef at this time of year. His beetroot sorbet would make a great amuse-bouche or even a dessert, showing how beetroot’s earthy sweetness can cleanse a palate too. Beetroot and mackerel are another classic combination.  In James Sommerin's recipe mackerel, white chocolate, beetroot and horseradish, the lead ingredients are treated in two ways - the mackerel seared and turned into a tartare, the beetroot pickled and its juice reduced. White chocolate and horseradish are added for further levels of creativity in this fish dish. Dominic Chapman of The Royal Oak and The Belgian Arms shows how beetroot and mackerel can be a real showstopper with seared mackerel and beetroot.  Once again mackerel and horseradish complement each other beautifully, and the peppery watercress leaves provide a flavourful contrast to the main parts of the dish. The beetroot relish included here could work well as a colourful addition to other dishes. One final fact about beetroot is it could help to beat hangovers!  Beta cyanin, the pigment that gives beetroot its colour, is an antioxidant.  It speeds up detoxification in your liver, which helps your body turn alcohol into a less harmful substance that can be excreted faster than normal. For more beetroot dishes from some of Britain’s leading chefs, head over to Great British Chefs beetroot recipe collection. Mecca is head of social media at Great British ChefsAt work she is known for her chocolate desserts and boundless enthusiasm for social media. She has spent the last 10 years in community management and online marketing at some of the biggest and most innovative internet businesses out there (Yahoo, Justgiving, moo.com and Joost).  She also hosts an annual food blogging competition called Nom Nom Nom.    

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th November 2013

The Brilliance of Beetroot