I love beetroot, jewel colours, tiny globes of sweet flavour which brighten up winter mealtimes. Yet, for most people, mention beetroot and their first thought is the vinegar steeped slices bought from the supermarket. If you can get hold of fresh beetroot it’s truly delicious, easy to cook, versatile and very good for you. You can even eat the tiny young leaves in a salad.
Earlier this week, I picked up a bunch of tiny, overwintered beetroot from the Veg Men (I wrote about them here). I decided to make a salad for lunch, using up a few left overs from the fridge, added some slivers of Gabriel Blue (a ewe’s milk cheese) bought from my favourite Cockermouth deli last weekend and a few slices of baked beetroot. Looking for a bit of added “crunch” I made some candied nuts as a gluten free alternative to croutons. Here’s how you can recreate your own version. Mix and match your flavours to suit what you have. Think of it as a twist on the classic goats cheese salad you find on so many restaurant menus and experiment.
150g of mixed salad leaves (either home grown or find a local producer)
100g candied walnuts or pecans (see below for instructions)
75g goats cheese (I used a blue ewe’s milk because that’s what I had – and I didn’t weigh it – a small handful should suffice) chopped into small cubes.
3 or 4 small baked beetroot (see below for instructions)
A simple dressing made with 3 tablespoons walnut oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
Whisk together the oil and vinegar to make the dressing. Shred the salad leaves, slice the beetroot and combine all the ingredients in a large salad bowl. Leave to stand for a few minutes for the flavours to develop beofre serving.
The ideal nut for this salad would be walnuts - the eagle eyed among you will spot I used pecans – that’s what I had in the cupboard! To be honest, that’s what I’d use again, the flavour of cooked pecans worked really well with the blue cheese.
1 tablespoon of dark muscovado sugar
3 tablespoons of water
Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved, add the nuts and stir until well covered in the syrup.
Pour onto a baking tray lined with silicone paper or baking parchment and cook at gas mark 6 for about 5-7 minutes. Start checking after five minutes, you want the nuts cooked, but not burnt. Leave to cool. The nuts can be stored in an airtight jar for about a week. They make a great snack too.
As a variation you could substitute maple syrup for the sugar, add a little ground ginger, plenty of sea salt and perhaps even a little paprika. Combine with a small bag of mixed nuts and make the perfect gluten free nibble to serve with drinks. These may take a little longer to cook, in my oven I give them 10 minues.
Wash the beetroot, but don’t scrub. It’s important not to break the skin or the colour will “bleed”. Trim off the leaves, leaving about 1cm of stalk and then trim the roots. Place in a shallow baking dish and add a little water (as a general rule I add a tablespoon for each beetroot). Cover with foil and bake at gas mark 2 for about an hour. The baking time depends on the size of your beetroots, “golf ball” size take about an hour, larger ones will take longer).
Once cooked, leave to cool before trimming the stalks and roots. You can then peel them if you wish and add them to salads, make a delicious dip or make a puree.
When I was a little girl, a “salad” meant a slice of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and if we were really pushing the boat out, slices of hard boiled egg. This would be smothered in Heinz salad dressing. Today, we eat some kind of salad almost every day. Even if you only have a small plot or a window ledge, it’s easy enought o grow a few salad leaves. Even during the winter you’d be surprised what will grow.