After tasting these pillows of yamminess I can confidently say “to beet!”. As you may have noticed by now I’m a sucker for colour. Any food that is colourful has my name written all over it so you can imagine why beetroot would be at the top of my favourite foods list. But apart from it’s vibrancy I actually like the stuff. It has this natural sweet earthiness that never fails to ground me. It’s available year round and nowadays there are some pretty awesome variaties being rediscovered. Like the Italian Chioggia beet with concentric rings of colour that can be white, yellow, purple or red, the yellow golden beet and the baby candy cane beet. I found some nice pictures of the different variaties here.
I have cooked these red beauties in many different ways. One thing that always works is slow roasting them in the oven with just a drizzle of ghee, some garlic, sprigs of rosemary or thyme and some salt. This seems to bring out their maximum sweetness. They make a great accompaniment to any meal in this way but chopped, sliced or diced they add colour and sweetness to many a salad. They particularly seem to be good friends with quinoa and I have made countless quinoa salads topped with roasted beetroot in any shape or form imaginable to mankind. (Okay, the heart shaped ones were really corny, not to mention impossible to carve. So they are out!).
But expanding on that quinoa beetroot combination I was thrilled to find a recipe for beetroot and quinoa pancakes in a wonderful book called “Good to the grain” by Kim Boyce. (Just love the title!) Since pancakes are one of my favourite dishes to eat (see my post here.) I thought pancakes and beetroot in one sentence. Yep, you got it. A match made in soulfoodie heaven! For those of you turning your noses up right now; get with the program! Just because you are used to eating a vegetable in savoury dishes doesn’t mean it can never be used in sweet recipes. But however do not despair. These pancakes are so versatile you can use them in sweet as well as savoury variations. I am guessing they would make great blinis, topped with dill creme fraiche and a small mountain of baby cress, toasted hazelnut and hazelnut oil. Mmmm, yam.
Now for the quinoa. I could easily join the choir and dish up all the incredible health benefits these tiny tiny grains (or technically seeds) house. It’s no wonder that in Quechua, the language of the Inca’s, quinoa means “the mother grain”. But you have probably already read about those benefits a thousand times. So let me just share the Ayurvedic perspective. The quinoa plant is part of the amaranthaceae family which other edible members include another power seed amaranth of course, spinach, chard and (get this folks!) beetroot. Yeah! No wonder it’s a match made in heaven. All these foods share the bitter and astringent tastes in small proportions, with beetroot having more of the sweet taste at first bite. Bitter and astringent are the two tastes that balance both Pitta and Kapha. Sweet balances Pitta. Now here’s where it get’s tricky. Stay with me. This is important.
When speaking of taste in Ayurveda there are three stages of experiencing them that we consider. The first one is called rasa in sanskrit. You could say this is the immediate or short term effect food has on the body and mind. A taste hits the taste buds on our tongue, we identify it as sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter or astringent. This creates a biochemical reaction in our system sending messages like for example “rest” or “wake up” . The second stage is called virya and this determines whether the food we eat stimulates metabolism or suppresses it or in other words whether it builds tissue or breaks it down. For example very cold drinks dampen our agni (digestive fire) and thus suppress our metabolism in the long run. Finally there’s vipaka and this is the long term effect of food or the effect food has after eating it for months or years. Ayurveda is quite special in this respect for it says that initial chemical reactions triggered by food in the body may change after digestion and over the long run. For example the salty taste over time turns sweet in the body having the same effects that sweet has on the body. Which is why when we eat a lot of salt we retain water and start to gain weight. The bitter and astringent taste over time have the same effect as the spicy taste reducing our tissues when consumed in large quantities.
Why the lenghty explanation you may ask? In general Ayurveda is very logical but on occasion it can get just a tiny tiny bit complicated. Most of you may have seen ayurvedic food charts that list foods that are suitable for your constitution. Every now and again you will have come across a food item of which you would consider the taste to be balancing for your type only to discover that according to the chart it is not. In most cases this has to do with the virya or vipaka of the item. This for example is the case with our friend the beetroot. At first bite (the rasa part of digestion) you would classify it as sweet, which is a balancing taste for Vata and Pitta and imbalances Kapha. However in the long run it has a heating effect on the digestion which is why Pitta should not consume too much of it and, despite the sweet taste, it is a great food for Kapha as it fires up your agni. That’s why the lenghty explanation! Glad I got that out of the way. So generally speaking this recipe works for all constitutions. Just don’t eat it everyday Pitta’s and for you it is a good idea to fry them in coconut oil instead of ghee. Kapha’s, please just use a little bit of ghee for frying.
As I said earlier these pancakes work in savoury as well as sweet dishes. I served them with maple syrup and toasted almonds as part of a brunch next to a sprout, avocado and pomegranate salad. The maple syrup is an absolute must. The flavour goes so well with the slightly grassy taste of the quinoa and the sweetness of the beet. So please use it. I also made a really sweet version by stacking them high with a filling of good quality yoghurt and homemade cherry compote. Choose your pick!
Beetroot and quinoa pancakes (adapted from Good to the grain)
For around 20 small pancakes
- 2 cooked medium-small red beet roots
- 30 grams quinoa flour
- 30 gram whole-wheat flour
- 65 grams white wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons cane sugar (use 1 tablespoon for savoury version)
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or a dash more for the savoury version)
- 240 ml (soy or almond) milk
- 50 ml (soy)yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon melted ghee
- 1 beaten egg
Skin the cooked beet roots and purée them to a pulp in a food processor. In a measuring jug mix the purée with the almond milk, yoghurt, melted ghee and egg.
In a medium glass bowl mix the flours with the sugar, baking powder and salt. Pour the wet mixture into the flour mixture and combine really well. Let the mixture rest for an hour or ideally overnight. When ready to use it check if the consistency hasn’t become too thick. It should feel like pouring cream (ongeslagen slagroom). You can add a bit of milk to loosen it up if necessary.
Heat a non stick pan until it is hot. Put a tiny bit of ghee in your frying pan and let it melt.Now turn the flame way down! Do not skip this step otherwise your pancakes will turn brown immediately and you won’t be able to see the pretty crimson colour anymore. Now add about two tablespoons of batter per pancake. You should be able to fit 4 pancakes at a time in a regular size frying pan. Let the top of the pancake turn solid in about 2 minutes. (You will slowly see all the bubbles on the surface of the pancake disappear and it will turn into a more opaque colour). Gently turn the pancake and let the other side cook for 2 to 3 more minutes. Scoop out of the pan and keep warm on an aluminium foil covered plate in a very low oven. Serve immediately when all are done.