Beetroot? Wooh! Add cheap industrial vinegar and far too much caraway and sugar, with the sole aim of colouring the mixed salad and anything else on your plate in a frightening shade of red: that's how it was, the beetroot of childhood. Latently aggressive on the palate, unconvincing in taste but always harbouring the potential to cause serious trouble after Sunday pub lunch. "Mum...help! My pee is red!" Many people seem to have never recovered from this shock, surely there is no other way to explain why, in spontaneous surveys of acquaintances, there is always a qualified majority that still don't want to know about beetroot.
But these days, creative young chefs have taken beetroot to heart - so much so that it even appears on menus in summer: baked in salt, for example, and combined with raspberries and blackcurrants to accompany poached lobster. Or sliced wafer-thin and lightly marinated as a base for crisp, deep-fried fish. Or as an iced soup, gazpacho style. Anyone who tastes such dishes will surely perceive this naturally sweet tuber in a new light and understand why the ancient Greeks considered beetroot, of all things, to be a particularly desirable vegetable.
According to legend, red beets were the root of Aphrodite's ageless beauty. The goddess of love was said to have feasted on them to maintain her good looks. In Rome, it is believed that a couple who eat from the same beetroot will fall in love. With such poetic knowledge, surely it is possible to suppress those memories of the slightly sweet, luminescent pink juice that ruined your salad as a child.
Beetroot can be transformed into greatness with surprisingly little effort; grated raw and dressed with a sharp vinaigrette made with a good amount of Dijon mustard and wine vinegar it makes a wonderful counterpart to roasted meat. Or, bake some in the oven to underscore their amazing sweet flavour. This can be a bit too much, so bake a few small, delicate bitter turnips as well - not only because they look great, but because the two closely related vegetables can play their very different characters off against each other in such a way that both ultimately benefit. As a cook, what could be better than creating such pleasures.
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