Thursday, June 30, 2011

How to cook Chioggia beets without losing the stripes

I came across Chioggia beets at our farmers' market in Bristol yesterday, pink stripey beetroot that the producer was so proud of he'd cut open to display. There was one bunch left which I was just about to buy when a woman shot up and said 'I'll have those'. Fortunately the stallholder still gave them to me, narrowly avoiding an unseemly scrap.

Anyway that's how beautiful these beets are so you can see I was reluctant to prepare them in any way that sacrificed the stripes. Checking the internet there seemed no guaranteed way of doing that so I consulted Twitter. Opinions differed - some said eat raw, others favoured steaming and yet others roasting them (my favourite way of cooking beets but I couldn't see how it would work in this case.)

I cleaned them up, trimmed them and sliced them finely on a mandolin then, hoping to use them raw, took a nibble. They were unpleasantly, unrescuably bitter. No beet carpaccio, then.

I decided to divide them in half and try different treatments. I salted half for half an hour (above, top, in large-holed colander) then rinsed them and dressed them with a couple of spoonfuls of lemon juice and seasoned them with salt and pepper. Just before I served them I added some extra virgin olive oil then scattered over some finely chopped spring onions, some double podded broad beans and a little chopped parsley.

The other half I blanched for a minute in boiling water (lower pic above in colander with smaller holes) then dressed in a light vinaigrette made from red wine vinegar and olive oil. Then added the extra ingredients as above.

The first method (above) kept the colour perfectly but they were still a little bitter and flavourless. The second way lost a bit of colour definition (see top of post) but tasted sweeter so I reckon that's the way to go. I also scattered over a bit of crumbled feta which finished off the dish perfectly. I’d have added a little chopped mint if I’d had some.

So there you have it. Unless you grow or have access to particularly sweet beets it seems you can’t serve them raw (and no, it’s not that I don’t like bitterness. I love the Japanese radish mooli) If you want a richer, more earthier beet-like taste you need to roast them but then you’ll get pink beets not pink stripey ones. It’s possible you could stir fry strips and not lose too much colour or make stripey beetroot crisps which would be amazing but the more heat you add and the longer you cook them the more likely you are to lose those stripes..

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I don’t intend to waste the greens. You can use them in place of chard or spinach.

*Apologies for the variable quality of the pix btw. My camera battery ran out so had to use the iphone for some of the shots!


  1. They are beautiful, but do feel that freshly pulled beetroot should be sweet enough to have raw. And please, why "beets"? What's wrong with good old beetroot?

  2. Some probably are, Heather. And beets? Partly for brevity, partly to win over people who don't like beetroot but might consider it under another name ;-)

  3. I made some last weekend. I sliced them on a mandoline, soaked them for a while in lemon juice, and then steamed them for about 5 minutes. Sweet, and didn't lose any noticeable amount of color.

    If you roast them, though, they turn a washed out grey color that is totally unappetizing. Don't go that route.

  4. interesting idea using lemon juice - I'll try that next time