Beetroot, Beta vulgarise, was offered to Apollo in his temple at Delphi, where it was reckoned to be worth its own weight in silver. The Romans began to cultivate it in earnest, and early recipes include cooking it with honey and wine.
The rounded root shape was developed in the 16th century and became widely popular in Central and Eastern Europe in the 18th century. Many classic beetroot dishes originate in this region including the famous beetroot soup, known as borscht.
Beetroots come in all shapes and sizes but the most common is round and deep red in colour. Other varieties are yellow, white, and even candy-striped (with red and white concentric circles). The humble beetroot is sweet, earthy and tender to eat and related to the turnip, swede and sugar beet.
400g raw beetroot, left whole and unpeeled
2 tbsp olive oil
6 tbsp plain Turkish or Greek-style yoghurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Flatbread and raw vegetables, to serve
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Rub each beetroot with 1 tsp oil and sprinkle with a little salt. Wrap them in foil and roast for 1 hour, or until they are soft and the point of a knife goes in easily. Remove from the oven.
When cool enough to handle, strip off the tough outer skin of the beetroots: use your thumbs to rub it off. Quarter and place in a blender with the olive oil, yoghurt and garlic, then blitz until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Serve with slices of warm flatbread or raw vegetables.