Many New Zealanders say that a burger is just not a burger without a slice of beetroot in it, and that a summer salad is not complete without beetroot. Generally they are talking about canned beetroot and I could never see what the fuss was about. But now having grown my own beetroot and tried it in many different ways, I am much more of a convert.
Beetroot (or beets as they are called in the US) grow easily from seed if you take care to control the slugs. Sometimes I grow them from seed, particularly the delicious baby beets, and other times I just buy the seedlings (such as when I am planting up my veggie garden for summer). You can grow them in neat rows or just plant them in a patch like I do. If it is just a small patch then you can grow them much more closely together than it says on the packet. Pick some baby ones early on to thin the patch out so you can get some bigger ones later on. They come in all shapes and sizes – this year I am growing cylindrical ones.
The whole of the beet plant is edible and very nutritious (and not to mention decorative with the lovely red colour). You can use the leaves just as you would spinach: using the baby leaves in salads and cooking the bigger leaves. The root can also be eaten raw or cooked. Baby beets are delicious roasted. You can juice beetroots (I would mix it with carrot and apple to start with). You can of course pickle or preserve them or make relish or chutney.
One of my favourite salads is to grate raw beetroot and carrot together, squeeze orange juice over it and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Beetroot, chickpea and feta salad is another visually delightful and tasty salad.
Be warned that the red colour in beetroot (betacyanin) is not broken down effectively by everyone’s digestive systems so it can be somewhat disturbing to discover you have red urine and/or faeces the next day. This happened to me the first time just as I was about to go for a job interview and I didn’t know what was happening!