Having long been associated with the Christmas pickle jar or Russians consuming borscht in sub-zero temperatures, the once-humble beetroot can be now seen on the plates of trendy restaurants from Cornwall to Kensington. Darren Simpson, head chef of Sartoria (Terence Conran's stylish restaurant on London's Savile Row) is an avid enthusiast: "Organic beetroot, red stripey, golden, earthy and sweet. I love it simply served as an antipasti dish, alternatively, it's delicious with fish or meat." He serves it with salmon baked in sea salt, horseradish creme fraiche and dill, and with spring lamb, borlotti beans and salsa verde.

Reputedly Rasputin's favourite vegetable, beetroot is also one of the sweetest - it is from the same family as the sugar beet, and it is generously endowed with vitamins and calcium. However, it may be advisable to exercise caution. According to an old Ukrainian proverb: "A tale that begins with a beet, will end with the devil." Aoife O' Riordain