I always thought of this sweet vegetable as a winter food, but my recent discovery of some very good-looking baby beetroot [not the ones pictured above; these are very much grown up] and a little internet research tells me that they survive well into spring in Western Australia.
How to select & store beetroot. wikiHow gives a four-step process to choosing beetroot, but what you are basically looking for is a firm, deeply coloured beetroot (they do come in colours other than purple!) with vibrant leaves and as few bruises/blemishes as possible. Smaller beetroot are usually sweeter – and they are a lot prettier to serve. Beetroot can keep in an airtight container or tied plastic bag in the fridge for weeks.
Healthy facts about beetroot. Beetroot is so good for you in so many ways. The nutrients within beetroot aid liver function and digestion, promote healthy hair, skin, nerves and bowels, and help to stave off anemia and high blood pressure.
Natural Home Remedies tells me that, as well as being high in many essential vitamins and minerals, the boron content in beetroot makes it an aphrodisiac. The fact that most of my favourite foods have aphrodisiac qualities is somewhat disturbing to me.
How to prepare beetroot. Beetroot has a naturally sweet flavour and is so versatile to use. You can:
- steam it;
- boil it;
- roast it;
- juice it; and
- eat it raw (grate or finely slice it into salads).
I prepared a baby beetroot salad for two beautiful girlfriends on Monday night. I love cooking for friends. They are usually forgiving if the presentation is less than perfect – or if it doesn’t quite turn out. Thankfully, this meal did turn out. Then again, any dish involving balsamic-infused beetroot, roasted pumpkin, Persian feta and candied nuts can’t go wrong, right?
The recipe to follow is pretty unscientific. You may want to vary quantities, substitute or add other ingredients, depending on taste.
Recipe #55: Baby beetroot salad. Serves 4.
You will need:
► 1 bunch baby beetroots, including leaves
► about 2 handfuls of pumpkin diced into 1.5cm squares
► 5-6 palmitos, quartered lengthways then cut into small wedges
► 1 punnet Persian feta [can anyone tell me if this cow’s milk cheese is really Persian?]
► 2 loose handfuls of rocket
► spiced, caramelised walnuts [make these in advance; recipe below]
► balsamic vinegar
► good olive oil
► raspberry syrup [optional]
First, you will need to prepare the pumpkin by par-boiling it: just place it in salted boiling water and simmer for about 10 minutes, just to soften, then drain and place it into a baking tray. Swirl over a fair amount of olive oil. Roast in a preheated (200°C) oven for around 30 minutes, or until the pumpkin starts to look a little darker and crispy around the edges. Remove from the oven.
You can prepare the salad leaves while the pumpkin is cooking. Tear off the beetroot leaves from the stalks and wash these in cold water with the rocket leaves. Drain and dry well.
Now to prepare the beetroot. Cut the stems from the beetroot right at the top of the beets; trim any wispy tails from the bottom; discard the stems and tails. Wash the beets very well under cold water, rubbing the skin to remove all the grit. Cut the beetroot into small wedges, about the size of the pumpkin pieces, and place into a small saucepan. Place hot water in the saucepan to about ¾ of the beetroot’s height, then pour in enough balsamic vinegar to just cover the wedges. Add a good pinch of salt and a generous swirl of olive oil [I told you this was unscientific!]. Cook for about 20 mins, or until a steak knife easily pierces a wedge.
At least half of the liquid should evaporate in the cooking process. Remove the beetroot with a slotted spoon and place on a separate plate.
> DO NOT DISCARD THE JUICES! These are the basis for your dressing.
To make the dressing, keep the juices on the heat until the mixture thickens sufficiently to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat. This is where the raspberry syrup comes in; whisk in a generous swirl. Now taste the mixture. Does it need salt? Add a pinch of salt. More acid? Swirl in some balsamic and whisk well. Taste and repeat the process if needed, and add a little olive oil if the flavour is too strong. Your finished product should be a thick, sweet dressing with a mild acid finish.
|What are palmitos? Palmitos are ‘hearts of palm’, the soft core inside the woody stem. I don’t know that you can source them fresh in Australia, however you will find them in cans or glass jars in either the canned vegetable or Mexican food sections of the supermarket.
Palmitos have a mild, nutty and slightly sweet taste, and are rich in dietary fibre. Although I found a number of references to the their high levels of Vitamin A & C, calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium and manganese, I could only locate a nutritional value for iron content (~3.6mg/100g) with a quick google.
I couldn’t tell you if palmitos are produced in an environmentally sustainable way. If the UN Office on Drugs and Crime or en.foodlexicon.org are to be believed, then much palmito production is merely taking over land formerly dedicated to drug crops or is a happy byproduct of land clearing for new roads in Central American countries. I plan on looking into this further before buying more palmitos.
When assembling the salad portions, distribute the leaves evenly amongst four plates. This is a warm salad in layers; the next layer is pumpkin then palmito, followed by the beetroot wedges and little chunks of Persian feta (5-6 per plate). Roughly smash a couple of handfuls of the nuts in a mortar & pestle, if you have one > if not, the side of a flat knife will do [just watch out for flying debris!]. Scatter the nuts over the top of each salad.
Finally, dribble the balsamic-olive oil-raspberry dressing over and around the salad with a spoon. Grind over some pepper and you are done. Bon appetit!
This may seem like a lot of hard work, and I guess there are a few processes involved, but it is worth the effort. Though rustic in presentation, my finished product was delicious:
I am salivating as I recall the flavour combination, remembering that I haven’t eaten yet, and listening to the fresh beetroot calling to me from the bottom of my fridge…
And as for the spiced, caramelised walnuts?
There are moments, following particular culinary exploits, that I seriously love myself. I enjoyed one of those moments when these walnuts were cooling. Little bursts of bliss to my tongue.
Now that I know how easy these are to make, I will attempt them again, only I will substitute other raw nuts and add different spices [I am thinking cardamom would be lovely] to my next mix.
Recipe #56: Spiced, caramelised walnuts. Based on this offering from Group Recipes.
You will need:
► 6 heaped tsp honey
► ¾ tsp cayenne pepper
► 3½ cups walnuts
► ¼ cup caster sugar
► 1½ tsp salt
► ½ tsp cinnamon, freshly ground
► 4 cloves, freshly ground
Preheat oven to 175°C and line a baking tray with baking paper that has been rubbed with a little oil. Place the honey and cayenne pepper in a small saucepan and allow to heat until runny. Add the walnuts. Once coated evenly with the honey-cayenne mix, pour them onto the baking paper, in a single layer if possible. Place in the oven for around 10 mins.
While the walnuts are baking, mix together the sugar, salt, cinnamon and cloves in a large mixing bowl until evenly combined.
Take the walnuts from the oven, and be very careful when you do this; they will spit little globs of honey at you and it’s darn hot! Stir the nuts for a few seconds to ensure even coating, then allow to cool for a minute or two before throwing them into the bowl with the sugar, salt & spices. Discard the baking paper; toss the walnuts in the dry mix until it looks like all the mix is stuck fast.
Spread the walnuts in a single layer on the naked baking tray and allow to cool. Try not to eat too many of them as you ‘test’ them for coolness and quality. They are very ridiculously good.
Although I served them on top of a salad, these nuts would be excellent with a cheese platter. Or on their own. Or their salty caramel flavour would be irresistible in icecream. Mmm…salted walnut caramel icecream. And with that, I know exactly what to do with my next batch.