Red alert

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 December, 2011, 12:00am

People seem to either love beets or hate them. I only became a convert when I tasted fresh ones, which are so much better than the watery, soft beets found in cans. Fresh beets are firm, sweet and intensely flavoured.

Take care when preparing them because the colour will stain wooden cutting boards as well as your hands (wear plastic gloves). Peeled, cooked beets are sold vacuum-packed in supermarkets, but they're too soft for most purposes. I always roast beets, even if a recipe says they should be boiled, because this intensifies the flavour.

Roasted beets with labne and lemon zest (pictured)

You'll need to start making the labne at least a day in advance because the yogurt needs time to drain. Use full-fat yogurt, but it doesn't have to be an expensive brand.

If possible, buy the beetroot in a variety of colours. They all have different tastes.

500 grams plain yogurt

800 grams fresh beetroot (small ones if possible)

Oil, for coating the beets

1 lemon, zest only

Extra-virgin olive oil

Fresh Italian parsley leaves

Rough-flaked sea salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel

Line a fine sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth that's been soaked in cold water then wrung dry. Put the yogurt on the cheesecloth and place the sieve over a bowl. Let the yogurt drain in the refrigerator for at least a day, or until it's thick and creamy. Transfer to a container, cover with cling-film then refrigerate until needed (it keeps for at least a week). Stir before using.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Thoroughly rinse the beetroot and trim off the leaves, if there are any (but keep them, as they're delicious stir-fried with garlic). Lightly coat the beets with oil, put them on a baking dish, cover tightly with aluminium foil then cook for about an hour (or more, depending on size) until the skin is shrivelled. Cool the beets and remove the skins (they'll peel easily if they are cooked properly), then cut into slices (for larger beets) or wedges (smaller ones) and arrange on a plate. Add dollops of labne, then drizzle lightly with extra-virgin olive oil. Use a fine-toothed rasp to grate lemon zest over the ingredients, then garnish with parsley leaves. Sprinkle lightly with salt before serving.

Pickled beets

The pickling juice takes on a lovely hue from the beets. If you have different-coloured beets, put them in separate jars. Use a pale- coloured vinegar - if it's a Japanese brand, ensure it's not the type used to flavour sushi rice.

The recipe is based on one in the Momofuku cookbook, by David Chang.

3 medium-sized beets (about 750 grams in total)

240ml boiling water

50-75 grams granulated sugar

10 grams fine sea salt

120ml rice wine vinegar

Peel the beets then slice in half through the stem. Slice as thinly as possible into half moons and pack tightly into a jar (preferably a tall, narrow jar, so there's less surface area). Dissolve the sugar and salt in the boiling water then stir in the vinegar. Pour the mixture into the jar - there should be enough liquid to almost entirely cover the beets (which sink over time as they soften slightly). Cover the jar and refrigerate. The crunchy sweet-sour beets can be eaten after one day, but are best after a week.

Beetroot salad with anchovy dressing

Because beets are so sweet, they're often served with tart or pungent ingredients to balance the flavour. In this recipe, based on one in Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book, the beets are served with a dressing made from lots of onion and rich, salty anchovies.

2 large eggs

500 grams roasted beets, preferably small ones

250 grams small potatoes, preferably fingerlings, all about the same diameter

Chopped parsley

For the dressing:

2 medium-sized onions, chopped

About 20ml cooking oil

1 tin (50 grams) anchovies in olive oil

60ml extra-virgin olive oil

10ml wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

1/4 tsp Dijon mustard

Freshly ground black pepper

Put the eggs in a small saucepan, cover with cool water, then place over a medium flame. Bring to a boil then remove from the heat, cover with the lid and leave for 10 minutes. Rinse with cold water until cool, then leave submerged in a bowl of ice water.

Boil the potatoes in salted water until just tender.

Make the dressing. Cook the onion with the oil over a low flame until soft but not browned, stirring often. Cool then put in a food processor with the anchovies and their oil, the extra-virgin olive oil, wine vinegar or lemon juice, the mustard and black pepper. Process until smooth then adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Peel the hardboiled eggs then chop finely. Slice the potatoes and arrange them, slightly overlapping, around the edge of the serving platter. Cut the beets into wedges (if they're small) or half-moons about 5mm thick (if they're medium-sized). Put in a bowl and mix with chopped parsley and enough of the dressing to lightly coat them. Pile in the centre of the serving plate. Drizzle some of the dressing over the potato, then scatter the ingredients with the chopped egg and more parsley, if desired.

Styling Nellie Ming Lee



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