Love Your Beet

The other day I was making beet spread and some of the juice stained my blouse with beautiful color.   That stain reminded me of how my aunt used to color wheat stalks when she wove her baskets.  She used beet juice, which had the most brilliant red color I ‘ve ever seen.  I used watch her boil the beet, then squeeze the juice out of them and use that juice to color her wheat stalks.

Beet originally came from plants in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.  The first mention of these sea plants appeared in an Assyrian text describing their planting in the hanging gardens of Babylon around 800 B. C. Babylon.  The ancient Greeks presented beets as one of their offerings to the sun god Apollo. The earliest Greek name for beets was “teutlon,” most likely because their foliage resembled squid tentacles.  Until the 3rd century, people concentrated on the leaves of beets and left the root alone.  The Romans were the first to use the roots for medicinal purposes.  They were used as a curative broth to treat fevers and other ailments .  The first mention of using beet roots in cooking was in a cookbook in the fifth century A.D. writtn by Marcus Gavius, a Roman gourmet.

The Romans took the beet plant to every corner of their empire, which resulted in the spread of beets throughout Europe.  The beet fell into obscurity of a time in the Middle Ages until an Italian physician and gourmand, Bartolomeo Sacchi, worte a book entitled, “On Right Pleasure and Good Health”.   It was the first modoern Italian diet and cookbook.  He described using the leaves of the beet for sauce, and the root for sweetening one’s breath after eating garlic.  From that time onward, agronomists began experimenting with beets to improve the variety.

A Russian chemist, Adreas Marggraf, discovered that crystals from syrup extracted from Silesian beets were identical to crystals obtained from sugar cane.  But the German were the first to plant and process beet specifically to produce sugar.  From there, sugar beets were developed, replacing sugar cane which grew only in the topics.

In the Levant, pickled white turnips and cabbage are turned pink with the addition of a partial beet root in the jar.

Here is a recipe for Beet Spread that will add flavor and unique color to your meal.

Beet and Tahini Spread

serves 4

2     beets, boiled, peeled and grated

3     tablespoons tahini*

1     clove garlic, mashed

3    tablespoons lemon juice

zest of one lemon

salt to taste

-In a chilled salad bowl, whisk tahini with the garlic, the lemon juice, the lemon zest and the salt.

-Mix the grated beet into the tahini sauce.   Serve cold.

*Tahini is pureed sesame seeds.

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