‘But what can I do with them?’ I heard someone ask at the market as he picked up a bunch of fresh, earthy dark red beetroots. I couldn't help but stop and make a suggestion… All you have to do with beetroots is scrub off the dirt (wear rubber gloves unless you want purple hands), trim the leaves (see below) and cut into chunks, then pop them into a preheated moderate oven on a baking tray. I usually drizzle them with olive oil and add a few sprigs of rosemary, together with garlic (I usually use three cloves per tray), whole peeled shallots or peeled and halved small onions, and a good twist or three of freshly ground black pepper. Then roast them until they’re soft in the middle and crisp on the outside – about 40 minutes. Serve them with virtually anything savoury.
Beetroots contain no fat, have very few calories and are a great source of fibre. The ancient Greeks used them medicinally, and in some parts of Central Europe they are considered a treatment for cancer. This is because specific anti-carcinogens such as the flavonoid quercetin are bound to the red colouring in the beetroot (as you will know if you eat beetroots, our body is good at absorbing the red pigment from the gut and excreting it in urine).
Most people throw away beetroot leaves, thinking they’re impossible to cook and without nutritional value, but they are delicious. They need to be exceedingly small and fresh to eat raw, though you could always pop larger leaves into a juicer. I think the larger leaves are best washed, chopped and cooked exactly like spinach or cabbage. As with all dark leafy greens, the tops of the beetroot contain beta-carotene and other carotenoids, which act as antioxidants, and both roots and greens are good sources of folate, iron, potassium and some vitamin C.
If you still need to be convinced, try this recipe for classic beetroot borscht
– this bright soup is delicious served hot or cold, depending on the weather.