Sunday, July 15, 2012


Since antiquity the beetroot has been credited with arousing, curing, purging, and cleansing all manner of bodily conditions or ailments. Aphrodisiac; promoter of hair regrowth; soother of earache, headache, intestinal pains and chilblains; curer of hangovers, dandruff and garlic breath.

So much for all that. Suffice to say it is a powerful little thing. And since today’s abiding paradigm of food value is healthiness, recent focus has for the most part been on the beetroot’s vitamins and minerals, its antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties, and even its alleged capacity to lower high blood pressure. But I say again: so much for all that. I am not denying the importance of health or medical history, I just want to explore the beetroot for myself unmediated by statistics and factoids.

Beetroot occupies an odd place in the hearts and minds of human beings. Their tenacious red pigment is obviously the central point of focus. It stains hands, chopping boards and usually any other ingredient it touches. Because it gets everywhere, it tends to be viewed as an irritating side effect. But isn’t there also something deliciously menacing about the incarnadine stain of a beetroot? Doesn’t a chopped beetroot provoke bloody thoughts on the fringes of our minds? We may rationally know we are chopping up a root vegetable, but we must also subliminally register the visual similarity to the gory work of a butcher or perhaps even more sinister instances of bloodied hands and knives. I for one always have the faint sensation that I am slicing open a heart when I chop a beetroot. In the indistinct basement chambers of the mind, blood and beetroots have an inescapable partnership.

There is also the distinctive earthy taste. A taste so earthy that the uninitiated beetroot eater might reasonably ask if there has been some mistake in the preparation: if some actual earth has not accidentally got into the vegetable itself.

In fact, geosmin is the organic compound responsible not only for the earthy taste and aroma in beetroot but also for that pleasant smell which occurs when rain falls on dry earth.
But to return to the vegetable itself and engage with it in person, instead of through lyrical hand-waving postulations, I went and bought a fresh raw beetroot for myself. I cleave towards minimalism, thrift and ease. Mainly just thrift and ease.

Beetroot. A most magnificent thing. Like an embarrassed potato, blushing, with a fancy outfit.

So I’m going to have a large beetroot as a meal in itself. It’s actually even easier than baking a potato. All you have to do is wash the beetroot, cut off most of the stalk, leaving an inch or so on and then wrap it in kitchen foil and put it in the oven for 45 minutes. As with potatoes you can alter the oven time for the size – since mine is huge I’ve left it in for an hour.

When you take it out of the first you’ll want to remove the skin. This can be done with a kitchen towel (to stop you burning your fingers). Apply a tiny bit of pressure and it rubs off almost effortlessly.

This done, you can chop it up into bite-size chunks and season it with salt, pepper and a little extra virgin olive oil. With exciting visuals, a unique taste, a subtle aroma and a pleasingly crunchy taste (quite unlike the mush of a baked potato), I assure you that the baked beetroot is a consummate experience all on its own.
Just make sure you don’t get a fright when it stains both your liquid and solid excreta a deep red. There’s no need to phone a doctor. It’s not blood. One really shouldn’t end a beetroot rhapsody on such an unseemly theme so I shall now try to redirect your thoughts with this picture of my friend Jack holding slices of beetroot into the shape denoting how we should all feel about eating them.

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