Mark Hix says you should borrow some sugar beet from a friendly farmer

 
Mark Hix

Why don't we regard sugar beet as a vegetable like swede or turnips or parsnips or even its close relative the beetroot?

It is commonly grown as a rotation crop in conjunction with wheat, barley and pulses, used to return organic matter into the soil and prevent the build-up of disease. It’s grown in some areas for the production of sugar but not commonly used in the kitchen. Heaven knows why, it’s great. It has a natural sweetness and a nice firm flesh, making it a very versatile vegetable indeed.

I often find myself standing in a field of the stuff whilst shooting and a few years back I popped a few heads into my cartridge bag and took them home to experiment with. I made a delicious pickle using Indian spices, I pickled some more in cider vinegar and roasted the rest like you would swede and parsnip.

I’ve asked some of our rural supplies to source it for the restaurants and it now makes its way onto the menus in various forms. It’s particularly good with wild or tame duck, or as a chutney to serve with cheese. You won't find it in the shops but you may well have a country residence with a nearby farmer – I'm sure they won't mind you borrowing a head or two to cook with.


Pickled sugar beet (serves 8-10)

You can turn this pickle into a spicy condiment by adding more dried chilli.

Ingredients

• 1 kg sugar beet, peeled, trimmed and washed

• 500ml cider vinegar

• 1tbs black or yellow mustard seeds

• 2 tsp salt

• 1tsp coarsely ground black pepper or chilli flakes

Method

• Cut the sugar beet into 1-2cm rough cubes or into neat batons.

• Mix it with the other ingredients and store in a cool dry place in sterilised preserving jars for 3-4 weeks before serving.

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