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Purple foods are hard to beet

I've always loved the colour purple, so perhaps it's no surprise that I'm drawn hypnotically to purple ingredients. From inky aubergines and claret hued red onions, magenta radicchio and delicately blushing purple-sprouting broccoli, to dark red cabbages (only nominally 'red' in contrast to their white cousins) and plump blueberries bursting out of their dusty indigo skins, purple food is the perfect edible pick-me-up in the cold white winter. In warmer months, this list would extend to gorgeously exotic figs, juicy plums, sloes and wild blackberries that stain your fingers, chameleon-like. Even Heritage carrots seem more alluring than the almost too-vulgar orange variety that we now consider normal. But at any time of year, the king of purple foods, in my eyes, has to be beetroot, which is delicious however you use it - roasted, pureed, chopped into salads, or baked in cakes, when its subtle sweetness and depth of flavour, not to mention the dark wine colour it imbues, wins over carrot cake every time.


Maybe it is the alluring richness of purple foods on a skin-chilling day; it's certainly always a cheering sight to have a bowl filled with such decadent colour - especially beets, which dye anything touching them lurid pink, like a tell-tale lipstick stain. And shredded red cabbages are so much more glamorous than white, whether you eat them raw, in a mayonnaise-slicked slaw, or slow-cooked alongside roast pork. Or am I somehow instinctively attracted to the health benefits of purple foods, which are known to contain anthocyanins - compounds which mop up carcinogenic free radicals, and lower blood pressure and LDL (the bad type) cholesterol.

Luckily for me, purple food doesn't just look glorious, adding a splash of regal colour to our plates, it tastes fabulous too. Blueberries are almost as common in Britain as apples now, and have gained such a reputation as a superfood that we feel guilty if we're not popping a punnet a day. Aubergines too, are a regular in our kitchens: we might roast them in a mixed vegetable medley (along with quartered purple onions), or fry them in fat slices, Turkish-style, and serve with a dollop of garlic-specked yoghurt. Braised red cabbage always adorns the Christmas table, thanks to Delia's fail-safe recipe involving layers of cabbage and spiced apple to create a side-dish worthy of gracing the festive roast. But beetroot doesn't really seem to be on our culinary radar, other than to use the vacuum-packed stuff to pep up a salad. Frankly, anyone not cooking with beets is really missing out.

My own love affair with this humble root veg began when I discovered an amazing recipe for chocolate cake with beets as the starring ingredient. Curiosity and tastebuds piqued, I began branching out with this beguilingly sweet-yet-savoury ingredient. Beetroot and coconut soup followed, a spicy beetroot houmous, then fritters made of grated beets and carrots (choose purple carrots for maximum impact!). Beet passion reached its zenith with food writer Diana Henry's amazing venison and beetroot stew, slow-cooked for around two hours until you can barely tell the nuggets of dark venison meat apart from the bruised beetroot quarters. I think that will take some beeting (sorry), but I still have beetroot blinis, sweet beetroot pie, and salmon and beetroot tartare on my list of future edible experiments. After that, perhaps I'll be ready to branch out and move on to another shade of the spectrum. Pink foods are looking quite good at this time of year...rhubarb, raspberries, pomegranates...

Last updated 14:27 on 29 March 2018

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