I mentioned this treat the other day, in my post about my Scottish tapas style meal.
When I was wee the only beetroots I’d ever come across were in a jar, and covered in vinegar. Some were even crinkle cut (presumably to make sure they soaked up as much of that vinegar as possible). Now I’m sure there’s a place for pickled beetroot, but those overwhelmingly sharp wee purple nuggins gave me quite the wrong impression of what beetroot is all about.
And so I didn’t try beetroot again for years. In fact probably not until I was in my 40s, when I was tricked into buying some fresh beetroot by the sheer exuberance and joy in the bounty of a farm shop one day. Into the wicker basket went locally grown carrots, courgettes, tomatoes, strawberries and cauliflower. Pears were placed on top, so as not to bruise them. And a bunch of herbs (this was in the days when I didn’t have my own established herb patch). And then there they were – bunches of beetroot, grubby with soil and with their tops on, looking as though they had just been plucked from the garden minutes before (I now know that if you leave the tops on beetroots for any length of time, they start to suck out the nutrients from the roots, and while the tops are wilting, they are also depleting the goodness from the bulbs).
There are so many things to do with beetroot, from the frankly outrageously delicious chocolate beetroot cake (think pimped up carrot cake) to simply roasted with a blob of sour cream. Or make a quick tart with goats cheese and beetroot grated into a horseradish creme fraiche on whatever pastry you have to hand, filo, puff or shortcrust. The earthy flavour marries well with horseradish or with balsamic vinegar and beetroot is of course the ideal companion to game or smoked fish, It’s a strong vegetable and not just in colour.
But one of my simple beetroot salads just combines it with shallots, oranges, balsamic vinegar and dill. And lots of black pepper… but then I’m a bit of a pepper addict. The dark purple and bright orange of this salad will make you smile even before you’ve popped it in your mouth.
If you’re starting with raw fresh beetroot, this isn’t the salad to start making ten minutes before you sit down to lunch. However, for speed and convenience, you can make this with pre-cooked vacuum packed beetroot – get the stuff that doesn’t have any vinegar in it though. It won’t be quite as nice, but still pretty good.
Beetroot and orange salad
- a bunch of fresh beetroot bulbs – their size is immaterial, and you can just vary the quantity of everything else to match how much beetroot you have
- shallots – probably one medium shallot for every 2 medium beetroot
- oranges – one whole large orange for every 2 medium beetroot
- fresh dill – about 1TBsp of chopped up dill for every medium beetroot
- balsamic vinegar – a good old glug of it
- olive oil – not much, in fact it doesn’t really need it at all
- freshly ground black pepper
- Maldon sea salt
- Cook your beetroot. You might already have a preferred method, but if you don’t then I would recommend you cut off the leafy tops about 0.5cm above the root, then wrap the roots all together in kitchen foil and pop them in a medium oven until they are done. If they are small and you don’t have many of them they’ll take less than an hour, but if you have anything bigger then teeny weeny roots then you’re looking at a couple of hours in the oven to ensure they are cooked. To check they are cooked, unwrap them (carefully) and insert the tip of a sharp knife into the largest one – if it meets no resistance it is cooked. The alternative is to boil them in a big pan of water.
- Once the beetroot is cooked let it cool for a while so they are cool enough to handle. With a wee bit of pressure, the skin will slough off and you are left with wee naked purple balls of beetrooty tastiness.
- Chop the beetroot into wee cubes and put in a bowl
- Add segments of orange – you don’t want any pith or skin on the segments so take a large orange and a very sharp wee knife and slice off the top and the bottom of the orange. Sit the orange on its bottom, and slice off the pith and skin in big slices all the way round the orange, cutting sections off at a time, from top to bottom – you’ll get the hang of it. Once you have a wee naked orange, hold it over the bowl with the beetroot, so you catch the juicy drips. Using the knife, cut out a segment – you need to cut alongside the natural segment ‘skin’ so you get perfect wee skin free segments of orange. Again, you’ll get the hang of it, but perhaps not on the first orange. Once you’ve released all the segments into the bowl, squeeze the remainders of the orange to capture all the juice in the bowl.
- Now finely chop your shallot and add it to the bowl
- And finely chop the dill and mix it in too
- Glug in some balsamic vinegar, and wee splash of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper
- Taste to see if it needs more balsamic or pepper
- Beetroot, walnut and quinoa salad with ricotta recipe (telegraph.co.uk)