Two Beetroot Recipes

Now winter is drawing rapidly closer – the clocks have fallen back and it is dark when I leave work now – my desire to cook good wholesome food seems to be an all time high. I am so excited about the impending winter events, Halloween (celebrated by the ancient Celts as part of the Samhain festival and which indicated the end of the year and thus the onset of Winter), Bonfire Night, Thanksgiving and finally Christmas and New Years, that I have already started planning menus for all of them. As I’ve mentioned before, I have an urge to cook for large crowds, yet I am very rarely given the opportunity unless we visit my husband’s family in the US.
The winter months seem like the perfect time to be overly generous with your food (you should be anyway, but when it’s cold, it seems like we need extra nuturing), and if it doesn’t all get eaten in a sub-zero body-protecting frenzy, we have leftovers instead.
Last night was Halloween so, in true bloodthirsty mode, I used two bunches of beetroot that were lingering in the fridge, to make Borscht and Cupcakes. Beetroot was charmingly referred to as Blood Turnips in the 19th Century so it seems like a perfect vegetable to prepare on All Hallows Eve.
I had hoped that some unsuspecting Trick or Treaters would come to the door so I could confront them with blood pink stained hands, half peeled beet clutched demonically in my fist, paring knife in the other. Unfortunately there were no callers at all, despite our glowing pumpkin in the front window. Just as well really, as I had forgotten to buy any candy for them anyway.
I had great fun peeling the beetroot. It is amazing to see this dull, deep red root vegetable transformed into a vibrant, ruby coloured gem (traditionally used as the colourant for pink lemonade – shattering my dreams, as I thought that some remote tropical land grew pink lemons) as you gently remove the soft outer skin. I didn’t wear gloves as recommended, and my fingers weren’t really stained too badly at all.
For the Beetroot Muffins, which sound like something from a Roald Dahl novel, the beets had to be roasted in the oven for about an hour and a half, skin on, wrapped in foil. With those snugly ensconced in the oven, I set to work on making the Ukranian classic soup, Borscht.
Borscht can be served in two ways, hot or cold. Or, I suppose, if, like my husband you want to be contrary, lukewarm. One important point: it must have sour cream stirred through it. The other base elements of the soup, excluding of course the beetroot itself, can be varied to suit what you have in the fridge and what time of year it is. If you want a substantial winter soup, you can add a lump of meat, diced potato, carrots, turnips, cabbage or some Pirogis (tiny dumplings stuffed with meat). For a light summer consommé style soup, you can omit the root vegetables, adding instead some celery and tomatoes, diluting the rich burgundy stained puree by adding more light chicken stock and sprucing it up with some spring onions or chives, serving it with some ice cubes. Then it would be a Beetroot Gazpacho of a sort.
With that in mind, here then is a basic recipe for a simple, quick and flavoursome Borscht, perfect for a cold winter evening, which could easily serve four as a starter, two as a main and could be diluted with some chicken or vegetable stock to go further if need be. It really is such a dense soup that it could handle it.
The Romans thought of Beetroot as an aphrodisiac, but taking into consideration that it also has a highly effective laxative quality (Apicius devoted at least five recipes to using beetroot to relieve constipation), it’s probably not recommended for a romantic night in for the just the two of you.

500g Beetroot, raw and peeled
225g Carrots, cleaned
4 Shallots, peeled
1 Clove Garlic, peeled
Half stick Celery
1 Bay Leaf
1 Tbsp Caraway Seeds
Stock, enough to cover the vegetables (you can use homemade chicken or do as I did, a stock cube. Mushroom Stock Cubes are considered traditional in Russia)
Sour Cream
Roughly chop all the vegetables into large chunks (they will be pureed later), chuck into a large pan with the Caraway Seeds and Bay Leaf. Cover with the stock and season well. Beetroot is a very sweet vegetable, much sweeter even than carrots or sweetcorn so need quite a bit of salt to bring out their natural flavour. Bring to a rapid boil, turn down the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about an hour, or until all the vegetables are tender. Pour into a blender and whizz up until smooth. Taste again for seasoning, strain through a medium sieve into a saucepan and gently reheat. Pour into bowls and stir through an ivory swirl of sour cream.

If the look of the soup or the pretence that it is gory dragon’s blood soup isn’t enough to persuade your children to eat Borscht, try these Beetroot Muffins, which are a glossy chocolate mauve colour and are rich enough to serve dusted with icing sugar and a swirl of whipped cream but are also sturdy enough to survive travelling in a lunchbox. The beetroot give them a delicious moistness, meaning that they keep well in the cake tin (if they last that long!) and, more importantly, they are a tasty way of getting all of the beetroot’s nutrients into you.
N.B. This recipe uses roasted beetroot, but you can buy it vacuum packed and ready cooked at the supermarket which saves quite a lot of time. Just be sure that it isn’t pickled!
300g Beetroot Raw (to give about 250g cooked and peeled, see method) or 250g Vacuum Packed Ready Cooked Beetroot
75g Cocoa Powder (I use Green and Blacks because it has a wonderful dark, rich flavour)
180g Plain Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
250g Caster Sugar
3 Large Eggs
200ml Unflavoured Oil (such as corn oil or sunflower oil)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Icing Sugar for Dusting (optional)
1) Preheat oven to 200c. Wrap your uncooked beetroot, unpeeled, in tin foil. Fit snugly in a roasting tin and roast in the oven for about an hour and half or until tender. If using ready cooked beetroot, skip this and go straight to step 2.
2) Meanwhile, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the caster sugar. Put to one side.
3) Once your beetroot is cooked, peel and chop into large chunks. Puree in your blender. Add the eggs, one at a time until blended.
4) Add the Vanilla Extract and Oil and blend until thoroughly mixed. The blender will now look Pepto-Bismal Pink.
5) Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in your hot pink beetroot mixture. Combine gently but do not overstir.
6) Pour into a lined muffin tin.
7) Bake for 25-30 minutes at 180c or until springy to the touch.
The baked muffins will have a slight sheen to them but they will be cooked through.
Enjoy but in moderation and remembering Apicius’ five recipes...

1 comment:

Kathryn said...


I just found your blog and I love it. Such intelligent writing and fascinating subjects.

I love the pies in particular :).

Keep writing; I've bookmarked this, as am finding it a revelation.