The humble beetroot. Famous for its vibrant colour, yet a very much under-used vegetable. It has so many fantastic health benefits, we really should use it more in our cooking. It’s widely known as an addition to salads, often being sold in pickled form in supermarkets. Now, as tasty as a little pickled beetroot can be added to a summer salad, beetroot in its natural, uncooked form is actually a really versatile, delicious addition or basis to many recipes. It belongs to the same family as spinach and chard, and even the leaves and stems of it can be consumed, although unlike the sweet, earthy taste of the beet itself, the leaves are slightly bitter in taste. You can consume beetroot raw if you like, pickled as mentioned, roasted, boiled… you’ll never get bored of a beet, it seems.
There are multiple health benefits of beetroot. It is high in vitamins A and C, low in fat and a great source of fibre, manganese and potassium. It is also high in iron, making it an excellent choice for those who do not eat meat or fish and seek plant-based sources of iron. In an article for BBC Good Food, Jo Lewin, a community health nutritionist, outlined that beetroot has a history of being used for its medicinal qualities. She outlines that it was used “primarily for disorders of the liver as they help to stimulate the liver’s detoxification processes”. The reason behind this, she says, is because the “plant pigment that gives beetroot its rich, purple-crimson colour is betacyanin; a powerful agent, thought to suppress the development of some types of cancer.” It also helps ease digestion and can help aid in lowering cholesterol levels.
Beetroot has also been linked to an improvement in physical performance. A study taken in 2013 found that an intake of concentrated nitrates (which are found in beetroot) over a few days lead to a ‘moderate improvement’ in performing tasks. You can buy beetroot ‘shots’ from health food stores, which recommend digesting the sweet, slightly thick juice around 2 hours before exercising to experience an improvement in performance. Back in 2012, Olympic gold medalist David Weir claimed beetroot juice as the reason behind his win. Further to this, according to the Romans beetroot even has aphrodisiac properties. This may have had some basis to it, as beetroot contains high amounts of boron, which is linked to the production of sex hormones…
October is a great month for beetroots, albeit the last month in which they are in season, but that still gives you a good few weeks to appreciate this vegetable to its fullest. Beetroot should be firm, vibrant in colour and not wrinkled. It can be frozen once cooked, and its leaves can be stored in the fridge for a few days before going limp – but the beets themselves can be kept for up to 4 weeks in the fridge without leaves.
This recipe for Beet Bourguignon from Green Kitchen Stories is a fantastic, warming way of using beetroot.
Beet Bourguignon – Serves 4.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 small beets, peeled & quartered.
- 4 medium sized carrots, sliced in large pieces
- 2 sprigs thyme
- sea salt & pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 tsp arrowroot powder, solved in 2 tbsp water (optional)
- 2 cups puy lentils, for serving
- 4 cups water
- a pinch of sea salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2-3 portobello mushrooms
- 10 champignon mushroom
- 10 small pearl onions, peeled
The stew: Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven or a large cast iron pot over medium heat. Stir in onions and garlic, then sauté until soft. Toss the beets, carrots, thyme and salt and pepper into the pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the tomato paste, red vine, vegetable stock and bay leaves, let simmer on a low heat for 40 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the lentils, mushrooms and pearl onions.
The lentils: Rinse the lentils under running water. Bring the water to the boil. Add the lentils and lower the oven settings to medium heat. Let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, and when it is almost done add salt. Set aside them aside at this point.
Mushrooms and pearl onion: Heat the olive oil in a pan. Lower the heat and sear the portobello, champignon mushrooms and pearl onions, stirring occasionally, until the mix tender and golden in colour. Season to taste. Set aside them aside also.
Finishing the stew: Taste the stew, then add more wine, and stock or herbs if you like. If you prefer the stew a little thicker, add arrowroot mixture, but this is optional. Add mushrooms and onions and simmer for 10 more minutes. To serve, spoon the stew over a plate of lentils and sprinkle with fresh thyme.
Feature picture by Niccie King