Eating your vegetables ain’t what it used to be. Especially now, in the summertime, when there are so many glorious choices. Among them the pedigreed, colorful, social butterfly of the table, the beet. Native to the Mediterranean basin, it is related to Swiss Chard, Mangel Wurzel and, strangely enough, to the South American quinoa.
Beets on the table predate the first Greek democracy. Baby beets enjoyed a period of great popularity among the celebrity Roman chefs of the 1st C. After the fall of Rome, the beet, like much else, fell into obscurity throughout the dark ages. When the beet re-emerged, it found its way back to a favored place at the table in many forms – raw, steamed, boiled, roasted, soup-ed and pickled.
Eastern Europe’s contribution to world cuisine prominently includes Borscht, a beet soup of infinite variations, served hot or cold. In Poland and the Ukraine beets were mashed with horseradish as a condiment for cold cuts and sandwiches. European pickled beets were a popular snack found in pubs and coffee shops across the continent. The Pennsylvania Dutch took to pickling hardboiled eggs in a brine of beet juice and vinegar. Today, the Australians have made a unique twist to the grilled hamburger by topping it with a slice of pickled beet and dubbing it the Aussieburger.
The role of the beet as a coloring agent is as varied. Perhaps some stained Roman toga provided the first opportunity for the beet to show its stuff as a textile dye. In its many levels of intensity, the beet provided textile merchants across continents and centuries with pathways to both fine fashion and great riches. Nor was the cosmetic value of beets unacknowledged. Between the 16th C and the 19thC beet, natural beet juice was used to stain lips, put color in cheeks and tint human hair. In Eastern Europe, beet dye is at the heart of beautifully colored Easter eggs, no pale pastels for them.
Our website contains quite a number of beet recipes including: Mixed Beets with Chevre, Pistachios and Thai Basil,, Beet Gratin, Golden Beet Flan and Roasted Beet Hummus. Today’s recipe, Cream of Beet, harks back to the Polish and Ukrainian usage as a condiment for sandwiches such as the one below with fennel, sprouts and avocado, or as a dip for crudité. Watch those togas!