Far-reaching uses for the purple stuff

Beetroot and vanilla cupcakes
Beetroot and vanilla cupcakes
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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And you thought it was just a tasty salad or soup ingredient.

The uses for beetroot are far-reaching and as it’s currently a seasonal vegetable, there’s no better time to be adventurous with the purple stuff.

Starters, dips, main meals and desserts are all on the menu for those who are prepared to experiment with the salad staple.

Some of the country’s best-known chefs have been extolling the virtues and versatility of the beetroot.

‘Beetroot is a remarkable, healthy and delicious vegetable that is fast becoming ubiquitous at the nation’s most fashionable dinner tables – the days when it was simply picked and served from a jar with salad cream have long since disappeared. It’s healthy, versatile and delicious – and finally gaining the popularity it deserves,’ says Mark Hix.

Jamie Oliver says it’s in the cooking. ‘When most people think about beetroot, they think of big vinegary crinkle-cut chunks from a jar and immediately say no! But remember, beetroots are only vinegary when they’re pickled. When simply boiled or roasted they are juicy and sweet as you like. Raw beetroot is amazing in salads, giving you a deep, earthy, minerally flavour, lots of crunch and, of course, incredible colours,’ says the telly chef.

But there are plenty of ideas for fresh and pre-packed beetroot. Website lovebeetroot.co.uk features recipes including radish and beetroot chutney, beetroot, walnut and herb dip, beetroot and potato gratin and beetroot pancakes with eggs, smoked bacon and maple syrup.

For a sweet treat why not try beetroot and chocolate cake, sticky ginger and beetroot muffins or beetroot and vanilla cup cakes (printed below).

And if you’re still in doubt, consider the health facts. The vegetable is great for boosting stamina and making muscles work harder and contains potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamins A, B6 and folic acid, as well as carbohydrates, protein, powerful antioxidants and soluble fibre.

Beetroot & Vanilla Cup Cakes with Rose Butter Icing

Makes 12 cupcakes

Preparation time: 45 minutes, plus drying time

Cooking time: 20 minutes

· You’ll need:

For the cupcakes:

175g caster sugar

175g unsalted butter

3 large eggs, separated

175g self raising flour

175g plain cooked (vacuum packed) beetroot, drained (hold a few drops of juice back to use as colouring) and pureed

1 tbsp vanilla extract

For the icing:

300g icing sugar

150g unsalted butter, slightly softened

a few drops rose flower water, to taste

a few drops beetroot juice, to colour

For the crystallized rose petals:

3 organic pink roses, separated into petals

1 egg white

Caster sugar (a sprinkling)

· What to do:

1. Make the crystallized rose petals the day before you want to serve the cupcakes. They will keep in an airtight box for a few weeks. Lay out a piece of silicon-coated baking paper on a tray. Pick through the petals and choose the 12 loveliest looking ones and lay them on the tray. Brush gently with egg white and sprinkle all over with caster sugar. Allow to dry in a warm place for eight hours before using.

2. When you are ready to make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 180˚C/Gas Mark 4.

3. Blend together the sugar and butter until light and creamy. Add the egg yolks, flour, pureed beetroot and vanilla and beat until smooth.

4. In a clean bowl whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff. Take a large spoon of egg white and beat into the cupcake mixture to loosen it a little. Then, using a large metal spoon fold the remaining egg whites gently through the mix, taking care not to over beat.

5. Spoon the mixture into 12 cupcake cases and bake in the oven for around 20 minutes, or until the cakes are firm to the touch. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

6. To make the icing, beat the icing sugar and butter together, either in a food mixer or by hand with a wooden spoon. Add a few drops of rose flower water to taste, and a few drops of beetroot juice to colour the icing.

7 .Spread generously or pipe over the cooled cupcakes and top each with a rose petal.

· For recipes and cooking tips visit lovebeetroot.co.uk