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Beet this!

I have to admit that I never gave the beetroot much thought till a grand-niece came visiting from California some months ago. We were having a buffet dinner at a restaurant, and the table was laden with food of all kinds. But the young woman made a beeline for one small bowl containing a mass of red. “Is that beetroot?” she asked, as her face lit up. “I just love beet.”

It was, actually, tomato chutney. But I was struck by the fact that there were actually people who loved beet. The raw tuber formed a part of salads when I was growing up, but that was the sum total of my relationship with it. And here there were people who seemed ready to give up all the delicacies on the table for beet. I shook my head in wonder.

I’m still shaking my head in wonder — but this time as a convert. I’d had a chat with chef Pradip Rozario some days ago about the beetroot, and he promised me a beet-filled meal when I next visited Calcutta. When I landed at his restaurant, K.K’s Fusion, the other evening, I went with some trepidation — but came back quite a reformed man. What chef Rozario did to beet can be the subject of a thick book.

For one, he came up with beautiful starters — stuffed tandoori beet with cottage cheese, and beetroot sushi, which consisted of a thin beetroot escalope wrapped around a juicy reshmi kabab. And if that weren’t enough, there was beetroot dim sum as well, the skin not white, as it usually is, but light red, thanks to a beetroot paste that had been mashed into the dough.

I think that’s one of the best reasons for using beet — the natural colour that it imparts to food. It has its own taste, of course — sweet and bitter at the same time — but the colour can really unplug your creative juices. I thought chef Rozario’s dishes were as innovative as they were beautiful.

The colour and the beet flavour enhanced the taste of the bacon risotto and the chicken roulade with fettuccine. The oven-baked barbequed fish came with tortellini touched up with beet. Beetroot figured in the dessert as well for he had used it in the sweet and crispy fried noodles that came with the ice cream.

It’s worth experimenting with the tuber because it’s full of nutrition. It helps in lowering blood pressure and protects the liver and the heart, while the rich antioxidants fight cancer.

Not surprisingly, it’s becoming quite a craze with our chefs — not the least because you can use it in all kinds of ways. Chef Ritu Dalmia, who runs several restaurants in Delhi, does an excellent beetroot carpaccio — so called because it’s thinly sliced like the raw meat dish.

Chef Rozario likes to tart up his sauces with beetroot — giving them a piquant taste as well as a light red colour. He prepared a seafood salad with beetroot wasabi mayo and grilled prawns with beetroot wasabi soy sauce. And the sauces, indeed, were delicious.

The grated texture of the beetroot also adds to the taste of food. One of the most loved Bengali snacks is a vegetable chop, which consists of grated beetroot along with other veggies such as potatoes. You bite into the crisp, breaded outer layer, and find that the inside is moist and red, with bits of roasted peanut in it. When you dip it in kasundi — a pungent mustard paste — you’re ready to sell your soul.

Chef Rozario’s beet special was like that — it opened not just your mouth, but your eyes as well. And to think I did that poor tuber such injustice for so long!       

Beetroot risotto with bacon (serves 4)

Ingredients:

• 900ml vegetable stock • 50g butter • 1tbs olive oil • 3tbs chopped onion • 3tbs chopped garlic • purée of 1 medium-sized beetroot • 150g bacon • 275g risotto rice (Arborio) • 75ml white wine • 100g freshly grated Parmesan cheese • 2tbs cream • 2tbs chopped parsley lsalt and pepper to taste

Method:

Heat the stock in a pot. When it boils, lower the heat and keep on simmer. Heat the butter and olive oil in a wide and heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. It should be soft and not brown. Add bacon and sauté it. Add the beetroot purée. When the colour releases, add the rice. Stir with a wooden spoon for about one minute until the rice grains are well coated and glistening. Add the wine and stir till absorbed. Add stock at regular intervals. Cook till the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked (18-20 minutes). Add the cheese, cream, 1 ladle of stock, parsley and seasoning. Remove from the heat. Cover and leave for two minutes. Serve with extra Parmesan cheese.

Beetroot dim sum (serves 4)

Ingredients:

For the dough: • 150g flour • 50ml boiling water • 25ml cold water ½tbs vegetable oil • 75g beetroot paste

For the filling: • 75g minced chicken ½tbs light soy sauce • 1tsp sugar ½tsp sesame oil • 1tsp corn flour • 1tsp ginger paste • 1tsp garlic paste • 1tbs chopped onion • salt and pepper to taste • chopped green chillies as required

Method:

Sift the flour into a bowl. Stir in the boiling water, then the cold water together with the oil and beetroot paste. Mix to form a ball of dough. Knead until smooth. Divide the mixture into 16 equal parts and shape into balls. For the filling, mix minced chicken, soy sauce, sugar, onion, ginger and garlic paste, green chillies, seasoning and oil. Add the corn flour and mix well. Place some of the stuffing at the centre of each ball. Pinch the edges of the dough together so that it looks like a little purse. Heat the steamer, place the dim sum in the steamer and steam for 10 minutes. Serve with soy sauce, spring onion and sliced red chillies.

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