Emily Grant continues her trek into the world of root vegetables beyond the beloved potato, stopping to appreciate the under-appreciated beetroot.
There’s nothing nutritionally wrong with a plain old potato; they’re high in essential nutrients like iron, magnesium, and potassium, relatively low in calories, and are a solid source of necessary dietary fiber. The issue arises with the way we eat them: chips, crisps, mashed and baked potatoes slathered with cheese, butter, duck fat, bacon, etc. I love that stuff (especially the duck fat and bacon) just as much as the next person, but while these fat-packed potatoes are fantastic occasional complements to any number of events – from the drunken night out to the comforting family dinner – they aren’t helping us nutritionally.
It’s easy to see why we love our potatoes served as unhealthily as they frequently are; as a root vegetable, white potatoes are relatively bland and some preparation methods leave them unappealingly dry. We add fats to make up the difference in flavor and texture. This is fine for the occasional splurge, but for day-to-day health, this conundrum leaves us with two options: eat bland and sometimes sandy potatoes, or search for alternatives.
Fortunately, potatoes are just one of many root vegetables that we could use, and – in my opinion – they’re no where near the top of the list as far as flavor goes. There are plenty of healthful root vegetables that can satisfy the desire for starch and carbohydrates that potatoes fill, but without having to supplement them with add-ons that outweigh their benefits. My goal is to create a series of five articles highlighting five often-overlooked vegetables – sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, turnips, and swedes – that make excellent substitutes for the fattening potato dishes we crave, only with much more nutritional value and, I would argue, far superior flavor. Last time, I explored the health benefits and delicious taste of the sweet potato. This week, I’m looking at beetroot.
Beetroot Health Facts:
Beetroot (usually just called a beet) is typically and memorably bright reddish-purple, and beets have a unique earthy-yet-sweet flavor that some people initially find off-putting. But beets, though perhaps an acquired taste, are a brilliant addition to any number of dishes and pack a powerful punch, containing important nutrients like potassium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and folic acid. Some major health boons of beets include:
- Cellular protection – Beets are high in antioxidants, molecules that help ameliorate cellular damage. The iconic red coloration of beetroot comes from a concentration of a group of antioxidants known as betalains, some of which have been linked to reducing the risks or effects of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation.
- Getting your blood pumping – Beets contain high levels of natural nitrates, which the body converts into nitric oxide. Evidence indicates that nitric oxide expands blood vessel walls, increasing blood flow and providing the entire body with more nutrients and energy. This increased blood flow is not only good for brain function, blood pressure, and energy levels, but beets have also been used as an aphrodisiac since ancient time to get the blood pumping to – ahem – other body parts.
- Mental wellbeing – Betalains found in beets have been used to treat certain cases of depression. Beets also contain tryptophan, which stimulates relaxation and a sense of wellbeing – much like chocolate does!
Beetroot has long been the darling of both upscale and farm-to-table dining, and – when properly cooked – can be an excellent addition to or focus of a nutritious and delicious meal.
Put down the crisps! And instead make:
Crunchy Beet Crisps! Preheat the oven to 175C. Peel the beets using a vegetable peeler and slice as thinly as possible. Toss the beets in a bit of salt and pepper, along with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil – just enough to coat the beet slivers. Arrange the beets in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until the edges of the crisps start to dry out – about 20 minutes – then rotate the baking dish and bake for another 10-20 minutes, until the crisps start to lighten in color. Cool in the pan and enjoy!
Sub out that blah baked potato for…
Scrumptious Roasted Beets! You can buy these pre-done at the store OR follow this easy recipe: Preheat the oven to 200C. Wrap the entire beet (chopping off the leaves, if there are any) in foil. Place the beet (or beets) on a baking sheet and roast for 50-60 minutes, checking every 20 minutes or so, until you can poke a fork easily into the middle. When cool enough to handle, hold the beets in a kitchen towel or with piece of kitchen roll, rubbing lightly to remove the beet’s skin, which should peel off easily. Cook for a bit longer if the skin isn’t coming off. After peeling you can either eat the beet immediately (they’re very good with a little salt and/or vinegar) or keep them in the refrigerator – whole or sliced – for up to a week.
Or make the beet the star of the show with this delicious and simple salad that sounds – and looks – much more impressive than the time you have to put into making it:
Roasted Beetroot and Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts and Goats Cheese
(Serves 2, generously)
- 1 medium roasted beetroot (see recipe above)
- About 4 large handfuls of rocket/arugula
- 60 grams creamy, soft goats cheese
- 40 grams toasted hazelnuts (you can also use walnuts)
Easy Balsamic Vinaigrette (you can use store brought if you’re in a hurry, or your vinaigrette of preference):
- 3/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
- Salt & pepper
- Small spoonful of brown sugar (optional)
- Small spoonful of Dijon mustard (optional)
- Chop beetroot into bite-size pieces and slice the goat cheese. Toss the beetroot, rocket, goats cheese, and hazelnuts together to create a salad.
- Combine the olive oil and vinegar in a glass container with a sealable lid (a jam jar works well). Add a pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper. Add brown sugar and/or Dijon mustard if desired. Put the lid on the jar and shake until all the ingredients are uniformly combined. Adjust according to taste.
Don’t listen to the haters – give the oft-rejected beet a chance! It’ll open your daily menu up to a range of new flavors and combinations.