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I am shocked! Shocked and dismayed…that one of my favourite food writers should write “It is not an inspiring vegetable, unless you have a medieval passion for highly coloured food.” Yet this is what Jane Grigson wrote in ‘Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book” in 1978 of the noble beetroot. True, I might agree with her when she continues, “I have never heard anyone claim it as their favourite” but even so…not inspiring? I grant you that it can get a trifle messy at times, colouring what ought not to be coloured but how can anyone fail to be inspired by its rich opulent red and its fresh, sweet flavour and quite apart from all this it is so beneficial to health. John Gerard, the 17th century herbalist, deemed it “a most excellent and delicate sallad”.
Beetroot is considered a natural detoxifier, helping the body to eliminate toxins and assisting in preventing the build-up of fatty deposits in the liver. There is evidence that beetroot juice can lead a reduction in blood pressure through its content of dietary nitrate. It contains other goodies like vitamins A, B and C, iodine, calcium, magnesium, potassium and it’s rich in iron. In the early Renaissance it was recommended to eat beetroot with garlic to avoid garlic on the breath.
Beetroot can be eaten raw in salads, it can be juiced, steamed, boiled, baked, pickled and if finely sliced and deep-fried it makes an interesting change from potato chippies or why not parboil a few and finish cooking them in with the roast. The young leaves, if you are lucky enough buy beetroot with them on or grow your own are similarly nutritious and can be cooked as you would silver beet.
A native of the Northern Hemisphere where is it probably best known as the prime ingredient of borsht, the famous Eastern European chilled soup the beetroot has been part of the New Zealand diet for many years. Where would the New Zealand hamburger be without its slice of beetroot? All right, it comes out of a tin but imagine how much nicer it would be if it was fresh.