I love beetroots, they are so unassuming, but few vegetables have the same substance and elegant potential. Dress them down and they are comfortable in a farm kitchen as borscht, perfect with the thick sour cream of Eastern Europe. Give them a little extra love, though, and they can make chicken consommé sparkle like a ruby, fit for a royal banquet. Assertive as they are, though, they don’t tend to overpower other ingredients, but instead can accentuate their character. Add some young golden beets among the potatoes around your next roast chicken, for example, tossed with olive oil and thyme, and notice how the sweetness of the meat is brought to the foreground.
My only beef with beetroot is that it’s so often neglected, or even worse, mistreated. Boiled until soft, so much of its colour and soul leached into the cooking water, how can it not disappoint us with insipidness? There are better, if slower, ways to allow beetroot to live up to its full potential, and my favourite is roasting it in a salt crust. Rather than weaken, its savouriness intensifies as it roasts, while its texture relaxes and becomes more tender.
Start by mixing about half a kilo of coarse sea salt with one egg white until the whole mixture
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Blood of the Earth
feels like wet sand and roughly holds its shape when pressed together. Within this treasure, encase your one large blood-red beetroot and one golden beetroot, washed well, but left with their skin on. It’s easiest to do this in a small roasting pan. The key is to make sure the crust has no gaps or cracks and the beetroots are nestled safely within it. Place them in a 180 °C oven for 2 hours. When you take them out, break the crust with a knife, and when the roots are cool enough to handle peel them and dice the red one(s) in half-centimeter pieces. After you marvel at your blood-stained hands, it’s time to assemble your tartare.
As with the meaty version of this dish, the balance of the mixture is subject to personal preferences, so use your taste buds and good sense, not just my words. My current taste
dictates that for every portion I combine 3/4 cup of diced beetroot, a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, 1 1/2 tablespoon of diced conichons, 1/2 teaspoon of red miso, 1/2 tablespoons each of finely diced shallots, wholegrain mustard, and capers, a glug of the best olive oil in the house, and a few dashes of Tabasco (this is a dish that likes some spice, let it have it).
The golden beetroot should be puréed in a blender with some smoked salt and enough olive oil to make a firm golden cream that holds its shape when spooned. It helps to make more of this than you need; it’s perfect on some toast with some smoked mackerel and sour cream.
To assemble, place your tartare in the middle of a plate, in a ring if you have one and top with a rounded tablespoon of the golden cream. I like to decorate it with a few dots of sour cream, rings of sliced red shallot, herb flowers, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with toasted crusty bread, a lightly dressed green salad, and extra Tabasco on the side.
DISH is the brainchild of two friends, Sander Martens and Tassos Sarampalis. Though they come from very different parts of the world, they are both inspired by food; Sander as a photographer and Tassos as food writer. Together, they explore the taste and nature of food, visually, culturally, and artistically, influenced by their international and local experiences. The column is published every two months in Villa d'Arte (Kookkunst).
© Sander Martens & Tassos Sarampalis, all rights reserved