Orlando Gough discusses ingenious uses for beetroot and provides two delicious beetroot recipes, one for Beetroot and Walnut Salad, the other for Beetroot and Orange Seed Cake...

I've been working on the RSC production of Webster's gruesome, violent The Duchess of Malfi. (You know when the play has ended because the entire cast is dead.) The set in our production is dominated by a giant carcass which seeps blood during the whole of the second half of the play; the actors end up wading in a crimson pool. At the press night a terrified looking member of the audience, who had been issued with a blanket for protection, spent most of the evening with it over his head. I thought he was simply reluctant to witness the violence, but he kept it there during the curtain call, so he presumably must have wanted to escape from the entire event. Perhaps he was vegan.

During production meetings, there were endless discussions about the stage blood its colour, its consistency, its rate of flow, its washability (oh those laundry bills!), its cost. A gloopy, syrupy consistency like expensive balsamic vinegar - was the most convincing, but eventually this was sacrificed on the altar of flow, and for my money the consistency more like cheap balsamic vinegar - is on the thin side. Still, the stage picture at the end of the play is gloriously, glamorously gory.

Rehearsals for The Duchess of Malfi took place in Clapham. Every day I passed through Clapham Common tube station, where all the advertising sites but one were taken by a very powerful vegan advertising campaign. Cute photographs of animals were accompanied by slogans like: He trusts us we slaughter him. As an omnivore it was like being eaten alive by your conscience. The remaining site was taken, with gorgeous irony, by a local burger restaurant.

Veganism is on a roll, and as an omnivore it's difficult to offer any coherent counter-argument, only stubborn behaviour. There's just one manifestation I can't get my head around. Recently we were talking to a guest at our airbnb over breakfast. What do you do? I sell street food. What sort of street food? Vegan Junk Food. What's Vegan Junk Food? It's burgers and wings, pulled pork. That doesn't sound very vegan. Yes it is - it's made from jackfruit.

This seems odd to me. If I were a vegan, I would be proud of the fact that I'd escaped from the world of meat and its iffy ethics. Surely vegan food doesn't need to use meat models? Now Mildred's, the London-based vegan chain, are selling a bleeding' burger. The blood' is made of beetroot juice. Perhaps it's a lure for omnivores.

Meanwhile, beetroot is still available for more conventional uses. It's particularly good roasted and served cold, as a salad; and it's a cunning ingredient in cakes and puddings.

Beetroot and Walnut Salad (serves 4)

600g beetroot, the younger the better

12 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

olive oil

salt and pepper

100g walnuts, chopped roughly

a generous handful of chopped parsley

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Heat the oven to 180C.

Cut the beetroot into large chunks. Put into a roasting pan with the garlic. Trickle over some olive oil, season with salt and pepper, cover with silver foil, and put in the oven for 45 minutes. Take off the silver foil and roast for another 45 minutes or so, till a knife goes in easily. (Keep an eye on the garlic, which should soften left too long it will overcook, become nutty and hard.) Allow to cool.

Put the beetroot into a bowl. Peel the cooked garlic and mash it up. Add it to the beetroot, along with the walnuts and the parsley. Sprinkle over the balsamic vinegar and a little more oil. Mix well.

Good with some soft goat's cheese, or smoked mackerel.

Beetroot and Orange Seed Cake

180g beetroot

3 eggs

150g dark brown sugar

150ml sunflower oil

75g seeds pumpkin, sunflower, linseed

180g plain wholemeal flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

tsp ground cinnamon

tsp grated nutmeg

grated zest of two oranges

Heat the oven to 180C. Line a 23cm springform cake tin with baking parchment.

Peel and grate the beetroot quite a workout. Beat together the eggs and sugar. Stir in the oil. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and put in the oven. Test after 40 minutes. A skewer should come out clean, just. Leave in the tin for 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

PS The other day, in a regulation proposed by the MP Jean-Baptiste Moreau, a farmer, the French government ruled that manufacturers of vegetarian and vegan meat-substitutes should not be allowed to use meat-words such as steak, bacon, sausage to describe their products. So, no more vegan pulled pork, no more vegan chicken wings in France. Tough measures.

Words by Orlando Gough

Add a comment

All comments are moderated. Published comments will show your name but not your email. We may use your email to contact you regarding your comment.