The color alone is enough to make you want to eat beetroot – the tint of pure health and wholesomeness. It’s the how that keeps us from using them more, because they are not part of the daily diet in Scandinavia, unless pickled. Learn more about Scandinavian beetroot.
The pleasure of eating well-prepared fresh beetroot comes as a surprise to most people, particularly if they are used only to the pickled kind. Sweet, juicy, new beetroot are becoming more popular – and increasingly available to buy.
But maybe it’s best that the vegetable remains an occasional pleasure. Overuse of beetroot can make you tired of it; the best thing is to make not quite enough, so you are not faced with overwhelming amounts of beetroot to work your way through. Eat it once in a while, as you would Jerusalem artichokes or parsnips, to keep it special.
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Beetroot (and later sugar beet) was according to common Latin, selected by the Romans from the wild beet that still grows on shores all over northern Europe. They selected them for root size, and the beetroots that resulted came in an impressive array of colors – anything but blue. They were mainly used for their medicine qualities, not for food, until they reached northern Europe and Russia in the 1600s. But some evidence suggests that they were in fact developed by the ancient Egyptians, and I think this is true as they grow marvellous beetroot in Egypt – football-sized but tender, and they have the deepest coloring of all. And the Egyptians have a lively tradition of eating them, as do the people that they were in contact with in Antiquity.
How it grows
Smallholders and gardeners grow beetroot because it must be one of the least demanding crops; it grows quickly, grows well in cold conditions, given the confetti-like range of colors now available. It is simply too much fun not to grow – or eat for that matter. Beetroot plants look good wherever you put them, and the red-leaved varieties are wonderfully ornamental in a border.
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Appearance and taste
Beetroots have an intense metallic and earthy flavor, very sweet and satisfying. The taste varies according to the variety and color, and round beetroot are much less stringy than the oblong varieties. All sorts of less common varieties are now available as seed and at good greengrocers: white beetroot that look – and taste – more like turnips, the Italian barbietole di Chioggia, with internal candy stripes, as flesh that turn orange when cooked; the yellow-fleshed variety that actually taste more like sweetcorn, or the flat, extremely dark Egyptian versions with a deep carmine color. The more colored, the more intense the taste. The leaves can be used like spinach and young people enjoy cooking both the leaves and root a lot more than older generations.
The color of red-fleshed beetroot is brimming with betanin, a water-soluble coloring that colors your urine blood-red, which can be a real scare for the unsuspecting beetroot-eater. Natural coloring boosts your immune system, and beetroot are full antioxidants, minerals, trace elements, different B vitamins and iron.
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There are some delicious ways to east beetroot, From Russia and Germany we have inherited the tradition of pairing beetroot with dill, crème fraiche, horseradish and vinegar. The northern touch is to use fresh, smoked cheese (below) and caraway seeds, both of which give the roots an extra kick.
Beetroot’s sweetness is its great strength, and also its weak point; you have to work with beetroot to make it really good; to pair it with something acidic, sharp or hot to match the sweetness, and something creamy to balance its earthy solidity. If you have sweet and juicy young beetroot, eat them simply, turned in butter and lemon juice, or with horseradish and sour cream.
Beetroot’s cooking time depends on the freshness and the cultivate.
Beetroot salad with fresh smoked cheese
This salad is a beautiful thing to serve with fish, fish roes, smoked meats, or as a part of a buffet. If the smoked cheese is not available, a very good and very fresh ewe’s milk ricotta will do, or a homemade, drained junket.
4 medium beetroot
Salt and pepper
1 bunch of dill
for the cream
150g fresh smoked cheese
100g Greek yoghurt
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon sugar
Clean the beetroot well then bake at 160 degrees C/gas mark 3 until tender. Leave to cool. Meanwhile mix together the ingredients for the cream, seasoning to taste.
Peel the beetroot and grate them coarsely, then mix with the cream. Serve garnished with dill.
An alternative method to make this salad is to slice the beetroot very thinly rather than grate them. Spread the slices in a thin layer or a large dish, then drizzle over a marinade made of 3 tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt and 2 tablespoons cider vinegar: Spoon the cream on top and decorate with dill.
Scandinavian Beetroot, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top) Photo: Unilever Food Solutions