“The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip. … The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.”
After reading this I couldn’t help conjuring up an image of tired, beaten-up beetroot neglected on the bottom shelf of the grocery store. We’ve all seen them, we’ve all walked straight past them. But how can one relate that image to the tender sweetness of a young beetroot pulled fresh from the soil? The young beetroot with a flavor so gratifying, a color so beguiling, it’s hard to believe it will ever grow old?
Here in the Zambezi Valley our beets are at their best now. This season I decided to grow a couple of different varieties, which included a stripey red and white one called Chioggia, the same colors as a candy stick. They turned out to be so pretty and so sweet we eat them raw, thinly sliced, in a simple green salad.
The beet is another plant packed with nutrition: calcium, iron, folate, manganese, potassium, Vitamins A and C, and loads of fibre. I’ve read it’s a great detoxifier, particular for the liver, so a glass of beetroot juice after a big night out may just be the perfect hangover cure!
It was the Romans who first introduced the beet plant into our diets, but it was the Northeastern and Central Europeans who led us to many of the classic beetroot recipes, like borscht. Here, we eat beets–both the root and the leaves–every which way. Related to the same family as spinach and Swiss chard, we sometimes mix all these (young) leaves into a salad, but more often sauté them in olive oil with a little garlic, and salt and pepper.
Chris and I also love Thai-inspired flavors. Along with the beets we grow many of the key ingredients in our garden: lemon grass, ginger, spring onions, chillis, Thai basil. Below is a recipe for beetroot soup I made incorporating all these ingredients. Fresh, flavorful, beautiful and healthy, the soup can be eaten hot or cold.
Thai-inspired Beetroot Soup
Yield: 2-4 servings
- 7-8 medium-sized beetroot (golf ball-size)
- 1 stick lemongrass, bruised after removing thick outer layer
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 cup spring onions, roughly sliced (save green ends for garnish)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 red chilli, most seeds removed, and then chopped
- 1 knob fresh ginger (golf ball-size), peeled and grated
- 2 kafir lime leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 fresh Thai basil leaf
1. Scrub the beetroot and cut off the leaves, leaving at least an inch of stem. Do not chop off the roots.
2. Put the beetroot and lemongrass into a heavy-based saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil, about 45 minutes (the time will depend on the freshness of the beetroot; they are ready when a knife slips through easily).
3. Drain the beetroot, cool and then chop roughly, saving the lemongrass and beetroot-infused water.
4. Fry the onion, garlic, ginger, lime leaves/lemon zest and chilli in the coconut oil over a medium heat until soft. Be careful not to let the mixture brown, about 5 minutes.
5. Return the beetroot to the saucepan. Add the onion mixture, fish sauce, lemongrass and beetroot-infused water. Bring back up to a low boil until all the flavors have infused, about 10 minutes.
6. Remove from the heat, cool slightly. Using a food processor or whizzer stick–my preferred method–blend the beetroot mixture until smooth.
7. Stir in the lemon juice and coconut milk. Return to the heat to warm up the soup if eating it hot, or refrigerate for a couple of hours if eating it cold. Garnish with a dribble of coconut milk, finely sliced green onions, and a Thai basil leaf.