If kitchens in winter wore a colour, it would be intense beetroot red. Its flavour is as robust, but the earthy taste notes are not easy on the tongue. Beetroots are boiled, roasted or grilled to make them more palatable. In Indian recipes, to take the edge of its soil-like taste, it is lightly cooked for parathas, raita, poriyal, tikkis and sabzis.

Last week, a co-worker shared a fascinating recipe of whole beetroots coated with coffee powder, sealed in an aluminium foil and roasted in an oven for half an hour and then cooked on open fire for five minutes. Then they were peeled, sliced and served on a bed of yoghurt, with sliced cucumber and peanuts. He drew inspiration from a recipe by the celebrated chef and cook-book writer Yotam Ottolenghi. “It tasted like beetroot, but sweeter,” he said. Explaining flavour transformations, Arnez Driver, headchef of Santé Spa Cuisine in Mumbai informs, “Beetroot is high in sugar and when you cook it, the sweetish notes emerge.”

Nutrition gurus claim raw beetroot is a powerhouse of iron, folate and fibre. Restaurants that specialise in ‘healthy menus’ extract the juice of the raw beetroot to make several dishes. Santé Spa Cuisine in Mumbai is known to champion healthy ingredients and chef Driver uses beetroot juice in creative ways. He blends raw beetroot, strains the juice to make a pink lemonade and salad dressing with it. The lemonade recipe is fairly straightforward with just one addition—two or three spoons of beetroot juice. For the vinaigrette, Driver says: mix one part vinegar, five parts olive oil and one part raw beetroot juice.

One of the most well known sushi chefs in Delhi, Augusto Cabrera is known for his beetroot maki. Managing partner and corporate chef of the bar and restaurant Town Hall in Delhi and Mumbai, Cabrera combines beetroot juice with sushi rice and vinegar for his show-stopping dish. It is served with, you guessed it, a beetroot sauce flavoured with lemongrass and keffir lime.

Cabrera hails from Philippines and they have a mixed vegetable pickled condiment atchara or atsara. Phonetically, it seems like a close cousin of the Hindi word for pickle, achaar. “Usually, it is served with barbecued dishes. The main ingredients in atsara are grated unripe papaya, carrots, fresh ginger root, garlic and bell peppers. I am sharing a recipe with beetroot for you.”

Atsara from Philippines

Atsara by chef Augusto Cabrera
Atsara by chef Augusto Cabrera

Servings: 12 

Ingredients

3 beetroots, peeled and sliced (about 220 g)

100 gm unripe papaya, peeled and sliced 

1 carrot, peeled and sliced 

1 yellow bell pepper, sliced into long strips

4 garlic cloves, sliced 

1 medium-sized onion, sliced

1 2-inch fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced 

A handful of raisins 

5 gm black pepper corn, crushed

Vinegar mixture: 

2 cups cane vinegar  

1 cup water 

1 cup sugar 

1 teaspoon salt

2 gms black pepper 

Note: Sugar, salt and vinegar can be adjusted according to your taste.

Method

1. Vinegar mix: in a medium-sized saucepan, boil the vinegar mixture for 5 to 7 minutes, until sugar and salt dissolve. Set aside. 

2. In a large bowl, combine the beetroot, unripe papaya, carrots, raisins, onions, garlic, fresh ginger root, yellow bell pepper, crushed black pepper. Mix well. Then transfer the mixture to a clean glass jar.

3. Pour the vinegar mixture into the glass jar. Make sure the vegetables are completely submerged in the liquid. 

4. Allow the vegetables to marinate in the liquid undisturbed for at least a day before serving. 

5. Atsara can be stored in the refrigerator for upto a week.