The Amazing Beetroot
Beetroot evolved from wild seabeet which is a native of coastlines from India to Britain. Two thousand years ago, prior to being modified by cultivation techniques, beetroot had a carrot-shaped root and only the leaves were eaten (the small root was used for medicinal purposes by ancient Greeks and Romans). The familiar rounded root variety was developed around the sixteenth century and gained widespread popularity in Europe a couple of hundred years later. Today beetroot is common throughout much of Europe, and is used extensively in Scandinavian, Eastern European and Russian cuisine.
The beetroot plant, Beta vulgaris, has deep tap roots and can grow in a variety of soil conditions. Other members of the genus include chard, sugar beet, spinach and samphire. The red variety is dominant but golden and white beetroot is grown on a smaller scale.
Drinking beetroot juice boosts stamina and could help people exercise for up to 16% longer, a UK study suggests. A University of Exeter team found nitrate contained in the vegetable leads to a reduction in oxygen uptake - making exercise less tiring.
The small Journal of Applied Physiology study suggests the effect is greater than that which can be achieved by regular training. Beetroot juice has previously been shown to reduce blood pressure.
The researchers believe their findings could help people with cardiovascular, respiratory or metabolic diseases - and endurance athletes. The researchers are not yet sure of the exact mechanism that causes the nitrate in the beetroot juice to boost stamina. However, they suspect it could be a result of the nitrate turning into nitric oxide in the body, reducing how much oxygen is burned up by exercise.
Many people are averse to beetroot having only experienced crinkle-cut slices steeped in overpowering vinegar. This is a shame because fresh beetroot has much to commend it in terms of flavour (sweet, slightly earthy), texture (smooth and velvety) and colour (dark red/purple, or an appealingly lurid pink when combined with cream or yoghurt). These attributes make it a key ingredient in many fabulous salads. And if you haven't tried fresh beetroot juice you may be pleasantly surprised at how subtle it is, particularly when offset with a sharper ingredient such as orange or apple.
Cut off the leaves and store in an unsealed plastic bag in the fridge. The leaves should be used within a day or two but the root will keep for a couple of weeks.
Tender baby roots can be grated raw in salads. Mature beetroot can be boiled (better for smaller, younger beetroot) or wrapped in foil and baked (better for larger, older roots). To preserve the beetroot's colour and nutrients, rinse and brush clean but do not remove the skin or root until after cooking. Cook until a skewer easily penetrates to the core (anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours boiling or 1½ to 2½ hours baking at 180°C). You may want to wear rubber gloves when cutting and handling beetroot as the pigmentation leaves a pretty stubborn stain. The leaves can be cooked like spinach - steam uncovered in a pan with a small amount of boiling water (around 1cm depth).
2 or 3 large uncooked beetroot's
¼ pint of sour cream
2 large potatoes
1 stick of celery
2 pints strong chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon tomato puree
Juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
sprinkling of chopped chives for garnish
pinch of paprika and pinch of sugar
- Peel and dice the beetroot
- Chop all the other vegetables
- Fry chopped onions until transparent and add paprika, stir well
- Add other vegetables and cover with the stock
- Add the bay leaf and parsley and season well
- Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes
- Add the sugar, lemon juice, and tomato puree and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes then allow to cool and blend in blender
- Re-heat thoroughly and add the sour cream just before serving with a sprinkling of chopped chives.