Bright and Beautiful Beetroot

Beetroot is a stalwart of the garden; an efficient crop (one can use both the leaves and roots) which doesn’t take up much space, and is also very nutritious. The leaves are a good source of calcium, iron and vitamins A and C, and the taste is milder than Swiss chard. The root helps to detox the liver, tones the blood and builds red blood cells.

Beetroot needs: Full sun, neutral to slightly acidic soil that drains well and regular watering

  • Planting

Beetroot requires a finely prepared soil if it is to form well-shaped roots. Sow seeds 3cm apart, in full sun, directly into the soil about 2cm deep, in rows 30cm apart. Keep the soil moist during germination and they will germinate quickly – within 7-14 days.

Germination tip: Did you know that beetroot seed naturally contains a chemical that inhibits germination, which is why seed often doesn’t sprout until after heavy rain? To help nature on its way, soak the seed in lukewarm water for about an hour before sowing. It should germinate within 10-14 days.

  • Growing tips

Because the seeds are actually seed clusters of 2-5 seeds, the seedlings will appear in fairly dense clumps. If you want a good root crop, it is necessary to thin out the seedlings to about 5cm apart when they are about 5cm high, otherwise the roots become woody. You can replant these seedlings in a new row, provided the roots have not been damaged. Thin the rows a second time when they are about 7cm high. The remaining seedlings should be about 10-15cm apart. The seedlings from the second thinning can be planted as a row, or used as greens for the table, or can even be used straight away as small leaves for the salad bowl. Water regularly throughout the growing season and feed once a month with a liquid fertiliser. (Feed those planted in containers once a week.)

  • Companions

Onions and kohlrabi are particularly good companions for beetroot – if you have the space sow a row of each, next to each other. Other good companions are dwarf beans, lettuce, and cabbage. Beetroot does not like being planted near mustard and will grow poorly if done so.

  • Harvesting

Beetroot bulbs are best for picking when they are 5-10cm in diameter.

Store leaves and roots separately in the fridge. Cut off the tops, leaving stems around 2-3cm long. Use leaves within a few days. Roots will keep for 2-3 weeks.

Fresh ideas for eating

  • Grate raw beets for use in salads and as a garnish. They add colour, flavour and are high in nutrient content.
  • Use beet leaves in salads in place of lettuce.

Tonic crudités starter (a powerful tonic for general health!)

  • Dress grated raw beetroot, grated raw carrot and paper-thin cucumber slices with olive oil, lemon juice and some chopped fresh dill. Garnish with parsley. Serve as a starter.
  • Roast beets with other veggies in the oven or on the grill.

Sautéed beet leaves

  • Sauté garlic in olive oil, add chopped beet leaves and sauté lightly. Remove from heat, dress with lemon juice and serve immediately.
  • Sprinkle hot beetroot with lemon juice, butter, salt and pepper.
  • Serve hot or cold beetroot with a yoghurt and horseradish sauce.

Sliced summer salad

  • Chill cooked beetroot. Arrange sliced beetroot, sliced purple onions and segments of orange on a bed of watercress or lettuce leaves. Dress with a vinaigrette.
  • Beetroot juice is a simple and delicious way to increase your nutrient intake. Start with small quantities to avoid an upset tummy. Mix with carrot or apple.

Red velvet tin cups with cream cheese icing and strawberries
The combination of red velvet cake, cream cheese icing and fresh strawberries are a match we love, and they are pretty too. We cooked these in a kettle braai, for something unique this summer!

Red velvet cupcakes

300g of self-raising flour
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
115g butter
200g sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 cup buttermilk
½ cup beetroot puree (made by processing raw beetroot 100-200g until smooth – you may need to add a little water to get a puree)
NOTE: cooked beetroot will give you more of a brown colour than the bright red you are looking for in this cake mix.

Mix together the flour and salt in a bowl and set aside. Mix together the beetroot puree and the cocoa in another bowl until it forms a paste. Use a large bowl and a mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until it is light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla and cocoa/beetroot paste. Alternate adding the flour and salt and the buttermilk, adding a little at a time until it is all added, and then beat until well combined. Place the mixture in a plastic bag until ready to use. Butter the tin cups, cut the corner off the cake mix bag and pipe into the tins. Prepare the fire and let it burn until the temperature reaches around 180°C. Place the cups on the grid and replace the lid. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the cake is set on top. Cool to room temperature before icing and decorating with strawberries.

Cream cheese icing
452g of cream cheese (2 tubs)
100g of butter at room temperature
300g of icing sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

There is a bit of a trick in making this icing pipe-able, and that is not to beat the cream cheese too long. Overbeating will cause it to be too runny for piping. In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to combine the cream cheese and the butter just enough to be creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually add the icing sugar until it is all combined (and remember not to over-mix!). If the mixture seems a bit thick, add a few drops of milk. If it is too runny, add some more icing sugar. Place the icing in a piping bag with your favourite nozzle and keep refrigerated until ready to use. This icing should be used the same day.

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