Cluster sowing, beetroot recipes

by | Jul 30, 2021 | Gardening bore, Food & recipes | 0 comments

Always one for trying something new (*cough* bullshit *cough*) I did something a bit different with my beetroot this year. I tried the ‘multi-sowing’ (cluster-sowing) method espoused by Charles Dowding, the guy who made no dig gardening famous. If any form of gardening can be ‘famous’, that is. You know what I mean: famous among people who wear Crocs and listen to GQT. My people.

How to multi-sow beets

I used a modular seed tray with 32 modules, and sowed three beet seeds per module. Then when the seeds germinated I thinned them out to leave a trio of three seedlings per module. (Each beet ‘seed’ is a cluster in its own right, so if you sow three of them you’ll often end up with more than three seedlings, closely packed in together. Choose the three healthiest looking ones, ideally with an inch or so between them, depending on the size of your modules.)

When the seedlings were big enough to plant out, I just bunged each module in the ground, leaving a slightly bigger gap between them than I normally would with single seedlings — about a handspan gap.

I harvested a lot of the beetroot this week and was SO pleased with the results. I definitely got a much bigger yield doing it this way (yield being one of the main advantages of cluster sowing). Although I will say that each ‘trio’ of beets generally yielded one or two smaller beets (say, golf ball-sized) and one bigger beet, but that was fine by me. And the plants seemed so much happier, probably because there was no faffing about pricking out individual seedlings. Much less disruption for them. I used less compost, too.

(And yes, I know you can just sow beet seeds directly in the ground but sowing direct rarely works well in our garden thanks to spring deluges and our resident snail army. Almost everything we grow starts life in individual plugs. If your garden is the same, I’d definitely recommend you explore the multi-sowing approach.)

I also multi-sowed lettuce this year and, again, it worked a treat.

A few beet recipes for you

So what do we do with all those beets? Firstly, I freeze quite a few for the winter. Just boil the beets whole (skin on, leaves twisted off) until tender, then when they’re cool enough to handle, rub the skins off – surely one of the most satisfying feelings ever – and pack the whole beets into a freezer bag. Then you can just grab as many beets as you need from the freezer, as and when you need them.

In the winter, we mostly use them in risottos (beetroot makes a beautifully pink risotto, which looks amazing topped with some vibrant green pesto), or grate them into homemade veggie burgers.

Whether you freeze them or use them fresh, here are some of my other favourite things to do with beets.

1. Our trusty mixed veg and lentil fritters

This is such an easy-going recipe. Use whatever veg you like, tweak the spices as you see fit, scale it up or down, serve with whatever dip you like… It’s a really useful recipe to have in your repertoire. These days we replace the egg with a flax egg or aquafaba, because we’re dirty vegans, but you do you.

2. Potato, chard and coconut curry

This delightful summer curry is a great way to use up all those beetroot stems and leaves (in place of the chard stems and leaves listed in the recipe). If you only make one thing on this list, make this curry. It’s from Meera Sodha’s book East, which is a book everyone should own.

3. Clay pot noodles with beetroot and smoked tofu

Another recipe from East by Meera Sodha, this noodle dish is proper weird on paper. Beetroot and noodles? Smoked tofu? What the hell? But it’s oddly compelling and moreish. It’s probably not to everyone’s taste, but if you fancy trying something different with noodles, give it a go.

4. Sri Lankan beetroot curry with green bean mallum

Okay, now it’s starting to seem like I’m president of the Meera Sodha stalker club, because this is yet another recipe from her book East. What can I say? This woman knows how to get the best out of a beet. In my opinion, this curry is best served as part of a curry feast – I really like it alongside the creamy pumpkin malai kari from, you guessed it, the same book.

5. Beetroot tzatziki

Nigel Slater has a recipe for this summery dip in his book Tender, but I can’t find his exact version online. So either buy the book, or use this BBC recipe which looks fairly similar. Obviously, if you’re a filthy vegan, choose your yoghurt accordingly.

6. Beetroot and squash wellingtons

I’ve mentioned these before, in my list of 13 squash recipes everyone should have up their sleeve, but it bears repeating. It’s a good option if you want to make something a bit fancy – and veggie – for a family dinner.

7. Olia Hercules’ Carpathian beets and mushrooms

You’ll find this recipe in the book Summer Kitchens, which is a beautiful ode to the summer kitchens and recipes of Ukraine. (Not a vegan or vegetarian book, but there are still a lot of wonderful veg-based recipes.) Sadly, her exact recipe isn’t online, so if you don’t want to buy the book, try this BBC version instead, which looks very similar. Traditionally, this is a festive dish, but we ate it as a warm summer salad, with some delicious bread.

Are you a beetroot lover, or do you think it’s the devil’s testicles? If you’re a beet lover like me, do share your favourite recipes below.

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