The other day I was talking about lettuce, pole beans and runner beans. In response, a reader wrote to me how sorry he was that you hardly ever hear such old vegetable names anymore. Like beetroot, he missed those too. “At my house it used to be just beetroot. Only the decent people in the neighborhood talked about beets,” he emailed. “I know it can’t be changed anymore, but I think beetroot is such a beautiful name.”
Now in the far from genteel family I grew up in, beets were also called beets. But I never sought the explanation for this in differences of position. I always thought it was something Rotterdam – we lived nearby. My father was very appetizing when he told about the little rolls his mother cooked so long that they burned. He had been left with a mild childhood trauma that my mother only managed to heal after twenty years of marriage by constantly feeding him tasty dishes.
I now know that beetroot is common in more regions than just Rotterdam. And that the word comes from the French word for root: carrot. But what about those two names for the same vegetable? And are beets really more chic than beetroots?
For these kinds of questions, you’ve come to the right place with culinary historian Lizet Kruyff, who wrote a stack of books about the history of Dutch food culture. “Oh yes, that thing with small meals”, she responds cheerfully to my question. “That is also quite complicated.”
Over the telephone follows a lengthy treatise on the gradual domestication of the wild, then white carrot, which has been growing in our regions since the Iron Age, and how in the 17th century, when serious work was started on writing botanical treatises, people were still barely distinguished between carrots, parsnips and beets. The latter grew in the same way underground, so they were considered red carrots.
It unfortunately goes too far to explain the complete etymology of the beet here, but it is useful to know that the root is officially daucus carota is called, which in English led to carrots, in French to carrots and in German to Carrots. The word beet is in fact short for beet root or beet root, that beet and beet coming from the Latin beta vulgaris.
Both words have been used alternately over the centuries. Kruyff: „The wise gardener from 1668 talks about beetroots and beets and never mentions beetroot. While in other sources from the 17th century the word beetroot appears much more often. And if you search in newspapers from the 19th century, beetroot is thousands of times more common than beetroot, but at the beginning of the 20th century it is the other way around.”
“In my opinion,” the historian continues, “the difference between beets and beets is not so much related to position, but to time and place. And if one is more dignified than the other, then kroot is the more chic name. Because it is the name used in many scientific works. But also if only because we adopted it from French.”
After we hung up, Kruyff emailed me the complete entries ‘beet’ and ‘kroot’ from the Dictionary of the Dutch Language. My eye immediately fell on the ‘beetroot’ variant. That actually seems like a pretty nice, class-neutral name to me. A beautiful polder word.
Popped beets/croutons/beetroot rolls with cottage cheese, oregano and lemon
You can make so many delicious things with beets/crops; I found it quite difficult to choose what to serve you today. It ended up being two summer lunch or starters. The first dish, or rather something very similar, I once ate with a friend in an Amsterdam lunch. We liked the combination of beets, cottage cheese and lemon so much that we both started making it at home. And we still do. I believe she is slightly different than I do, but with these kinds of recipes it doesn’t listen too closely. It soon becomes very tasty. Even if you were to use ready cooked beets for a quick version.
The second dish, a beet gazpacho, I once made up for someone who is allergic to tomatoes. It was only much later that I found out that gazpacho de remolacha is an existing recipe in Spain. You make it the same way, but replace the tomatoes with beets. Unlike regular gazpacho, a good splash of water is also added. The result is a refreshing cold soup that you can either drink from glasses or serve in bowls. In the latter case, you could decorate it with tiny cubes of beetroot and/or cucumber, crumbled feta or goat cheese, green herbs or some cress or sprouts.
For 4 persons:
6 medium beetroots, scrubbed;
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar;
5 tbsp olive oil;
1.5 seeing oreganoblaadjes;
400 g cottage cheese;
1 lemon, scrubbed.
Heat preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
Leg the beets in the baking dish. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and roast the beets in the oven for about an hour.
Leave they cool down a bit and peel off the skin of the beets. Cut them into rough pieces and put in a bowl.
joint the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, oregano leaves and salt and pepper to taste and toss. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes. Divide the beets among 4 plates or bowls and divide the cottage cheese over them. Grate some lemon zest over each portion.
For 4 to 6 people:
1 onion, finely chopped;
1 garlic clove, finely chopped;
1 green bell pepper, diced;
1 cucumber, cut into pieces;
300 – 400 ml water;
400 g cooked (roasted or boiled) beetroot, poached, cut into pieces;
2 – 3 tbsp sherry vinegar;
4-5 tbsp olive oil.
Doe the onion, garlic, bell pepper, cucumber and 300 ml water in the blender and puree until smooth.
joint Add the beets and mash again. (Or put everything in a tall mixing bowl and puree with the immersion blender.) Thin the soup with more water if desired.
joint Add 2 tablespoons vinegar and 4 tablespoons olive oil. Taste and season with salt, pepper and extra vinegar and olive oil if necessary.
Leave the gazpacho will be ice cold in the refrigerator before serving.