Beetroot – the new superfood.jpg

Beetroot – the new superfood

By: PAUL McKAY

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Teacher, Paul McKay, left London to live a self-sufficient existence in the Monchique hills with his partner Martyn. He keeps an assortment of animals and grows a variety of crops in an eco-friendly way – all on a limited income.

THE NEW superfood that is set to join cranberries and broccoli is that old favourite – beetroot.

Sunday evenings at my Nan’s house were never officially in full swing until Granddad’s pickled onions and pickled beetroot arrived at the table with Wallies (east London parlance for gherkins), fresh bread, cold meat and salad.

According to the experts (who have only taken 40 years to discover what my Nan knew back in the 1960s), beetroot is a superfood.

When eaten raw, beetroot is a more powerful tonic for you than any combination of vitamin tablets and food additives.

German research has shown that a glass of raw beetroot juice taken daily can be beneficial for treating cancer, can help you recover from anaemia and help cleanse the liver. It can also aid hormone regulation during menopause.

Growing beetroot

Beetroots do not like very hot weather or very dry conditions.

For many years, I faffed around with beetroots and was about to give up completely when a friend arrived at my house with a bunch of tennis ball sized beetroots in early April that, once cooked, tasted divine.

He grew them from seed to table in six weeks. The following year I followed his advice and have had pretty good success ever since.

The key to success, I believe, is to plant them when the risk of too much cold has past but there is still enough rain and humidity to keep the ground wet. Late February and early March is ideal.

• Prepare a fertile, well drained bed for beetroot in a sunny site.

• Plant seeds about six cm apart from each other.

Keep the soil moist. Germination takes four to 10 days.

• Each seed produces a cluster of four or five seedlings – thin to the strongest.

• Keep the plant moist and weed free.

• The plants produce healthy beetroot coloured leaves and after about four weeks, the root begins to swell.

• When the root is the size of a smallish tennis ball, they are ready. Gently ease them out of the ground.

Always make sure the soil is moist. If the conditions become too dry or hot, the plants will bolt or become hard and woody.

Eating beetroot

You have a number of choices. One simple method is to cut the leaves off (leaving about two cm of stalks) and boil in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes.

Another method is to scrub them clean and cook in the oven as you do with jacket potatoes.

They can also be roasted alone or with other vegetables. They also add interest, colour and flavour to soups and casseroles.

In its raw state, the beetroot will keep in cool conditions for a number of months.

In a glut situation, you can make soups that you then freeze or pickle.

The more adventurous among you may wish to try Beetroot Cake, and the recipe can be found at www.riverford.co.uk