Beetroot (Beta vulgaris) is an uncommon vegetable in these parts… but oddly, there must be some demand for it from restaurants or hotels or consumers because it is carried by retailers who get their produce from the Mountain Province. There are several varieties of beet including the sugar beets that were popular as a source of sugar in the West. Other beets are used as feed for cattle and livestock. There are several colors of beets including yellow, white sugar and chiogga varieties as well as the deep red beets. Beets are believed to be a descendant of sea beets that grew on the Mediterranean coasts several thousand years ago. Beets have probably been cultivated and eaten since Roman times but they became quite popular during the 19th century in Europe.
At the markets last week, I found these spectacular baby beets that were also organically grown in Laguna. I snapped up two bunches at a pricey P60 a bunch. I have never encountered baby beets in the markets here before. Back at home, I washed the beets in several changes of water to remove all the dirt, boiled the beets in water with the skins and stems on to minimize the bleeding. Then I cooled them, peeled and dressed them with a sherry vinaigrette and placed them in the fridge to steep. The next day the beets are terrific combined with greens, or with slivered onions, in sandwiches (where they impart a terrific color to the ham or whatever filling you choose – I made a sandwich of ham and sliced beets but it did not photograph well so you will just have to imagine it. I first noticed beetroot in sandwiches while on business in Australia, they add such a stunning flavor and visual punch to sandwiches of all kinds…
Larger beets are also available in the local markets. They tend to be less sweet here than their Western cousins that are raised in cooler weather. A good way to prepare the larger beets is to wrap them in foil and put them in a hot oven for 40-60 minutes until they are soft. Let them cool then peel and slice and add dressing. The baking seems to intensify their flavor and sweetness. Young beet greens are also edible although I have found the local ones to be tougher than I would like. I once tried a pasta with chopped beets that looked simply stunning but didn’t strike our dinner guests as a must have dish in future.