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Thursday, February 10, 2011


Beetroot can be red, white, and orange or have red and white concentric circles, but here is information on the red, most common variety. All parts of the beetroot can be eaten and the green tops and stems make a delicious simple salad or side dish. It is a relative of the better known swede and turnip.
   All beetroots come from a single ancestor which is thought to be the sea beet or Beta maritima which grew and still grows along the coasts from Britain to India. It is believed to have originated in the Middle East and Southern Europe.
   Perhaps the first people to cultivate beetroot were the ancient Babylonians who were cultivating it at least 4,000 years ago. However then it was a long thin root rather like the carrot and was perhaps only used for medicine. The tops were eaten though, and are a tasty vegetable dish. The ancient Greeks used the beetroot in medicine and it was worth its weight in silver to them we are told. Apparently the priestesses of Apollo served it to him on a silver platter at his temple at Delphi.
   The Roman gourmand, Apicius used beetroot in broths and in salads with a dressing of mustard oil and vinegar, and this is a tasty way of serving either the tops or the root. Other Roman recipes include cooking the tops with honey and wine.
   The beetroot was used to cure anaemia, and modern medicine would support this use as the beetroot is rich in iron. They also used it for constipation, a rejuvenator, for wounds, skin problems and fevers. The use of it as a rejuvenator has been vindicated by modern research as the nitrates in beetroot enable the body to lower its intake of oxygen, which helps to reduce fatigue and so increases stamina.
  If you don’t like the texture of beetroot, then you can drink beetroot juice, as it is claimed that 1 glass a day improves energy levels, promotes hair growth and healthy skin (so once again the ancient Greeks got it right). The only problem you may have is that you get Beeturia which is having your urine turn pink due to the acidity levels in the stomach. However this is not really a problem although it may come as a bit of a surprise. The juice is also an appetite suppressor so it is helpful if you are trying to lose weight.
   Be careful when you peel beetroot as most of the nutrients are found just under the skin, so peel it thinly. You should drink the juice at room temperature for best results and benefits. It has 50% less calories than fruit juices, so is good as part of a calorie controlled diet. Beetroot juice improves the quality of the blood, and cleans the stomach and intestines, as well as improving the absorption of calcium as it contains silica. You can juice beetroots, carrots and celery and mix them for a really healthy drink.
  Modern research has shown that beetroots can help prevent cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and help prevent heart disease, so it is one of the Superfoods along with garlic (eat half a raw clove a day to prevent cancer); pomegranates (reduce harmful cholesterol) and apples which are useful to prevent osteoarthritis. However if you have kidney stones you shouldn’t eat beetroots as they contain high levels of oxalate.
  Beetroot tops are rich in Vitamins A and C and iron and calcium, while the beetroot has folic acid, fibre, manganese and potassium. Both parts contain phosphorous, manganese, iron and B-complex vitamins. The beetroot also contains Betacyanin which gives it its rich, ruby red colour and has potent antioxidant properties. Betaine which is also present in beetroot promotes healthy liver functioning which also helps in weight loss. They also contain bioflavonoids which have potent antioxidant properties.
 Culpepper recommended red beetroot “to help yellow jaundice,” “to stay the bloody flux” and wrote that the juice “…put into the nostrils, purgeth the head, helpeth the noise in the ears and toothache.” Modern medical research would not of course support such uses and they should not be attempted.
  The round beetroots were developed in the 16th century and these helped the beetroot as we know it gain in popularity. In the 18th century beetroot became popular in Central and Eastern Europe as a vegetable and the soup recipe given below is a traditional Russian one for beetroot. The Victorian used beetroot in desserts for the sweetness and colour, as well as adding them to salads to brighten them up. Somewhere along the line manufacturers began making pickled beetroot which can taste quite disgusting. If you’ve tried this and didn’t like it, be assured that freshly cooked beetroot tastes nothing like the manufactured pickle.
   You can now buy baby beets too for salads, but this recipe calls for large Beta vulgaris. You could also try panzaria salata a Greek recipe for the tops including the stems, which are boiled until tender but not mushy, left to cool and then dressed with olive oil and lemon juice or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper. You can also make a winter salad with freshly cooked beetroots grated, along with grated carrot and white cabbage, chopped walnuts dressed in olive oil and lemon juice and garnished with parsley. (This is also a recipe I have had in Greece.) Generally beetroots go well with carrots and celery in juice and salads, so experiment with them.

400 gr beef, cubed, plus a beef bone
4 fresh beetroot, cooked and cut into thin 2 inch long strips
4 small potatoes, peeled and cut into strips
1 medium-sized carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion roughly chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
8 sprigs fresh dill
3 tbsps olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
parsley to garnish
1 tbsp white (wine) vinegar
2 tbsps butter/ margarine
2 tbsps soured cream

Put the beef, bone and onion and dill into a large pan with 3 litres of cold water. Bring to the boil then simmer on a low heat for 1½ hours.
Half an hour after the beef has been cooking, melt a tbsp butter and half the olive oil in a pan and add the beetroot, tomatoes and vinegar. Simmer over a low heat for an hour adding some of the beef stock if it gets dry.
Remove any scum from the top of the beef stock every so often.
15 minutes before the broth will have cooked, melt the rest of the butter and olive oil in a pan and lightly fry the carrots and garlic.
When the broth has cooked, remove any fat from the top and add the cabbage, carrots and garlic. Stir well and cook for 15 mins over a low heat.
Add the cooked beetroot mixture, stir well and cook for a further 5 mins.
Season well and add to bowls with parsley and a tbsp of soured cream for garnish.
Serve with crusty fresh bread.
N.B. You can sour cream by adding a few drops of lemon juice to single cream.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

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