By: Paul McKay
BEETROOT MAY not sound very inspiring, but it is actually a versatile and tasty vegetable.
For years, I had no success with growing beetroot in the Algarve, it either got swamped by weeds or simply wilted in the sun. Conversations with neighbours bore no fruit, so to speak, some hadn’t heard of it, beterraba, others said it was for feeding to animals and the rest assured me it would only grow in northern Portugal.
I was about to give up the ghost when a friend (new to veg growing – isn’t it always the way?) just chucked some in the ground, did precious little else and then arrived at my house flaunting the biggest, tastiest beetroots imaginable. The problem was all to do with timing, I have since discovered that late February until early March are ideal times for planting this tasty root vegetable.
How to grow it
The seeds of beetroot are quite large and bumpy and actually contain two or three smaller seeds, which often all germinate. To avoid overcrowding, simply snip off the extra unwanted ones, leaving one seedling at each station.
• Prepare a bed of fairly rich soil on a sunny free draining site.
• Plant the seeds eight to 10cm apart – thin each cluster to one seedling when big enough to handle. Sow on a sunny day when the soil is moist, but not waterlogged.
• Don’t allow the soil to dry out, water copiously in dry weather.
• The leaves grow very quickly. After three to four weeks, the roots will begin to swell.
• Some six weeks after sowing, feel under the soil for the root. Golf ball size and above are ideal for harvesting – if you allow them to grow too big they will become tough.
Cooking and eating
The roots are extremely hard. To cook, snip the leaves off leaving three centimetres of stalk (this prevents the root bleeding). In a pressure cooker, bring to the boil and allow to cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until tender.
The beetroot can be served hot as a vegetable accompaniment to meat dishes or cold with salads. They can be used in casseroles and stews or made into a delicious soup. A cold beetroot and apple salad tastes refreshing and sweet. Extra beetroots can be cooked and then pickled, whole or sliced, in sweet vinegar.
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