Ingredient of the Week: Beetroot
Beetroot is a another favourite vegetable of mine. Possibly because in restaurants it is often served with many of my other favourite foods, including cheese, smoked mackerel and more cheese. It also just happens to be an incredibly nutritious vegetable with particular benefit to endurance athletes like myself. Beetroot contains a high level of natural sugar, making it quite sweet and slightly earthy to taste, which is another reason why I like them so much. Raw, they have a crisp texture, but when cooked they soften and almost become buttery.
Beetroot comes from the same family of vegetables as spinach and chard. They consist of a reddish-purple, round root which is the part most commonly consumed and are topped with green leaves, which are in fact also edible and highly nutritious. I wasn’t actually aware that you could eat beetroot leaves until doing my research for this article, so I have never eaten them, but I believe they are very similar to spinach. For the purpose of the rest of this blog post, I will only be referring to the root part of the beetroot. Although the most common colour of beetroot is reddish-purple, you can also find white, yellow, golden and even rainbow varieties. Beetroot can be available all year round, however they are at their best from June to October. My Dad grows them very successfully in his allotment and Mum cooks them for me, keeping me well supplied.
Traditionally beetroot is pickled to preserve it and prolong its shelf-life. This leaves it with a sharp vinegary taste, which makes it good for cutting through rich beef stews or other similar dishes. The freshly cooked beetroot is much milder and sweeter, making it delicious in salads. Grated raw beetroot adds colour, crunch and extra nutrition to coleslaw and juiced beetroot is great added to smoothies. Beetroot is not just limited to savoury recipes. It makes a healthy, and tasty addition to chocolate brownies, pancakes or sponges. They can even be dried and eaten as a healthy snack. The most popular dishes and cuisines that use beetroot are Eastern European, with borscht (a beetroot based soup) being the most common. Another popular paring for beetroot is horseradish, a pungent and hot mustardy type root that is often grated and made in to a condiment. It is an acquired taste.
Why is it good for me?
The reason beetroot has such a bright and vibrant colour is because of the pigment it contains called betacyamin. This is what gives beetroot the majority of its nutritional value, as it is a powerful antioxidant found to be beneficial for fighting against cancer, while also being rich in nitrates, which is what is thought to help benefit exercise performance by lowering blood pressure and increasing blood flow by dilating the blood vessels. It also improves the efficiency of the process by which oxygen is converted to energy in the muscles, resulting in a potential improvement in stamina. Betacyamin is also great at detoxifying the body, as it neutralises toxins, making them water-soluble, so that the body can excrete them, linking back to its benefit for fighting against cancer causing cells in the body.
Vitamins and minerals that beetroot is high in include vitamin C and manganese, further adding to its antioxidant value, and potassium, adding to the lowering blood pressure qualities, while also benefiting heart health. It is a good source of iron, helping with the development of red blood cells and transporting oxygen to muscles, again benefitting exercise performance, and folate which helps with normal tissue growth and cell function.
How do I prepare it?
Beetroot can be quite difficult to handle and cook, as the colourful pigment very easily bleeds out of the beetroot and stains anything it comes in contact with, including skin. I prefer, if possible, to use ready cooked beetroot and fortunately this is easily available and fairly cheap in most supermarkets. Then all I need to do is remove it from the packaging and slice to size.
How do I cook it?
As I have already explained, I prefer to avoid cooking my beetroot, but it can be steamed, boiled or roasted. Be careful not to puncture the skin before it is cooked, as this will result in the pigment and a lot of the nutrition bleeding out and staining everything.
Beetroot is a tasty addition to many salads including this chorizo and pear one, as well as this feta and beetroot one. It is delicious paired with any smoked fish, like in this smoked salmon and egg on potato cakes. Another popular food match to beetroot is beef and this beef, radish and beetroot salad is a great example of this. However, possibly my favourite recipe with beetroot, if my least healthiest, is this blue cheese and beetroot salad.
Beetroot is actually incredibly versatile and pairs well with many things, sweet and savoury, including other root vegetables, potatoes, fish, cheese, ginger, nuts, seeds, citrus fruit, apples and pears, so have fun and be creative. Try including it more regularly in your diet and reap its many nutritional benefits, while also enjoying its amazing flavour. Comment below to share any of your favourite uses for beetroot.
Thank you for reading and speak soon.