Beetroot, caraway, fennel and feta

I’ve just been looking through my photo files and realised there are a lot of beetroot recipes in my blog. I hope I’m not boring you. If you don’t like beetroot, look away now. But if you do – and you recognise the allure of finding lovely fresh beetroots with leaves attached at the market, plus the fact that with a couple of beetroots in the fridge you can make a perfectly good salad when it seems there’s nothing to eat – then read on.

Beetroot, caraway, fennel and feta salad

If it wasn’t for the shirt-staining potential of this vibrant number it would make the perfect al-desko lunch. It’s got crunch, fresh flavours and nuggets of salty, creamy feta.

500g fresh beetroot (two medium beetroots)

100g feta, diced

1 Tbsp caraway seeds, lightly toasted

1 Tbsp fennel seeds, lightly toasted

1/2 cup baby gherkins, sliced

juice of 1 orange and juice of 1 lemon

2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil

Shred the beetroot (doing it in a food processor is SO much easier than struggling with a grater) and put in a bowl with the gherkins and half the seeds. Shake the orange juice and oil together, taste and add a little lemon juice for sharpness. Toss through the beetroot. Just before serving, top the salad with the feta and sprinkle over the remaining seeds. Drizzle with a little more oil and serve. Makes enough for two as a lunch salad or more as a side.

What’s your favourite thing to do with beetroot?

Elizabeth David’s potato bread

“Any human being possessed of sufficient gumption to track down a source of fresh yeast – it isn’t all that rare – and collected enough to remember to buy at the same time a pound or two of plain flour, get it home, taking a mixing bowl and a measuring jug from the cupboard, and read a few simple instructions can make a decent loaf of bread.”

So wrote Elizabeth David in Queen magazine in 1968, railing against the dearth of ‘decent bread’ then available for sale in England. For the most part, I agree with her about breadmaking being simple and enjoyable – which was why I was so disappointed when her Potato Bread didn’t turn out so well.

Elizabeth David’s potato bread

Bread is the theme for this month’s Random Recipes challenge and after a few off-piste experiments of my own lately (honestly, beetroot bread IS really good), I was thrilled to land on ‘At Elizabeth David’s Table’ when randomly selecting the recipe. This is a really beautiful book, compiled by Jill Norman (David’s long-time editor), a kind of Technicolour dreamcoat version of the original humble paperbacks.

However, I think the recipe for potato bread needs a little tweaking because it’s almost inedibly salty. (I’m sorry, Mrs David, but it is!) Being an obedient follower of both Elizabeth David and Dom of Belleau Kitchen, I stuck to the recipe very faithfully, but next time I’d halve the salt.

I won’t try to ape Elizabeth David’s inimitable recipe-writing style here, but here are the basics. She uses “a minimum of 20g salt” – I suggest 2 tsp is ample. Saltiness aside, it’s lovely bread.

125g mashed potato (about 1 medium potato), warm and dry
500g strong white flour
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
20g salt
150ml warm water (use the potato cooking water, if you remember)
150ml warm milk

Put the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl (or the bowl of a freestanding mixer). Add the potato, rubbing it in as if it were butter. Alternatively, use the paddle attachment on your mixer. Add the warm milk and water and mix well, then, knead until soft and springy (or use the dough hook). Grease the bowl with a little oil, then return the dough to it. Cover with a teatowel and leave in a warm place to prove until nearly doubled (David says this will take ‘rather longer’ than usual, possibly because the salt is doing its best to slow down the yeast).
Knock the dough back and knead lightly, then shape and put into a well-greased 1.5 litre loaf tin. Cover again with a damp cloth and let rise until the dough reaches the top of the tin (about 30-40 minutes).
Bake at 220C for about 40 minutes, ‘taking care not to let the crust get too browned or hard’.

Are you an Elizabeth David fan? Which is your favourite of her books?

Shocking pink beetroot bread

Do not adjust your screen: this bread really is THAT pink. I’ve been having a little bit of fun in the last couple of weeks, experimenting with adding vegetable purees to bread dough. I told the Small Girl I was going to do a magic trick and waved my ‘wand’ (a wooden spoon) over the teatowel-wrapped loaf while chanting the following:

Ala kazam, ala kajink

Make this bread purple-y pink!

As you can see, it worked a treat. Unfortunately she wasn’t that keen on eating it – and I admit, the colour is pretty arresting – but the bread is lovely. Here’s how to play the same trick at your house.

Beetroot Bread

Beetroot bread
Last year when I interviewed the lovely Ruth Pretty for work she showed me her prized collection of Time-Life ‘Foods of the World’ cookbooks and recommended that I look out for them. I think she cast a good spell over me, because I went through a particularly good period of finding gems in charity shops or on Trade Me immediately afterwards. One was a Time-Life Bread book, sadly not from the same edition as Ruth’s, but edited by Richard Olney and absolutely loaded with amazing recipes and bread knowledge. There’s a recipe dating from 1654 in the book that uses pumpkin, which inspired me to try beetroot. The 1654 recipe uses a lot of yeast and lets the bread rise for hours – I just adapted my normal recipe and it worked out fine. This makes a very springy, soft loaf. The beetroot taste is discernable, but not as shocking as the colour might suggest. A tablespoon of fennel seeds would be a nice addition, especially if you’re going to eat the bread with salmon and cream cheese.

500g beetroot, topped, tailed and halved
500g strong white flour
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
60-90ml warm water

Prepare the beetroot first. Boil it for 20-30 minutes, until easily pierced with a knife. Drain, then puree in a food processor or with a stick blender. Set aside to cool. You can do this well in advance, but the puree should be at room temperature when it comes to making the bread.
Mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl, then stir in the beetroot. Mix well, adding a little water, until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Lightly oil the worksurface, then tip the dough out onto it. Pick up one side of the dough, stretch it up, then bring it down again on top of itself. Repeat from the opposite corner. Do this another three times, then scrape the dough from your hands and walk away. Leave the dough to rest for 10 minutes, then come back and repeat the pick up and stretch process again. Then leave it again for 10 minutes. Do this process once more, then scoop the dough into a well-oiled large bowl. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for about 45 minutes, until nearly doubled.
Heat the oven to 200C. Tip the dough out onto the bench and knock back gently, pressing it out into a rectangle. Roll this up into a large baguette-sort of shape, or shape to fit a large loaf tin. Leave on a lined tray (or in an oiled tin) for 25 minutes, then bake for 30-35 minutes. Tip onto a rack to cool completely before slicing.

Random recipe: Feta + radish salad

I’m always amused at the ways Dom of Belleau Kitchen comes up with to entice people into joining his Random Recipes challenge each month. For April he’s decided to enlist the help of an interactive ‘thingummydoodah’ to make the process simpler (because nothing is more tedious – or frightening – than counting your cookbooks, right?)

For once the gods of Random Recipes smiled upon me and the thingummydoodah chose Fiona Beckett’s Cheese Course. There are no prizes for guessing the focus of this lovely book, which looks at wine and cheese matching (or whisky and cheese matching, if that’s your thing), designing cheese boards and choosing cheeses for entertaining, along with a generous handful of recipes.

 It’s not exactly spring in New Zealand at the moment (though it is unseasonably warm and it is definitely raining a lot) so I was really hopeful that the book would fall open at Fiona’s delicious macaroni cheese recipe (with crispy wafers of Parmesan scattered throughout so no one misses out on the crunchy bits). But as we eat a lot of feta, cucumber and olives in our house, landing on this recipe was surely a sign from the cheese gods.

Feta, cucumber and mint spring salad
Fiona says this recipe comes from London restaurant Ransome’s Dock, which in turn adapted it from a dish at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. She’s given me her kind permission to reproduce it here. Don’t quote me on this but if you’re on Dr Michael Mosley’s 5:2 diet, it strikes me that this salad offers quite a lot of bang for your calorie buck.

2 mini cucumbers (or about half a telegraph cucumber)
6 radishes
2 handfuls of rocket
a small handful of fresh mint leaves, finely sliced
150g feta, broken into small pieces
10-15 small black olives

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
a squeeze of lemon juice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the dressing, put all ingredients in a lidded jar and shake until well combined.
Cut the cucumbers in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds with the tip of a teaspoon. Slice lengthways, using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, until you have a pile of wafer-thin slices. Slice the radishes thinly on the diagonal.
Put the cucumber, radishes, mint and rocket in a bowl and toss together with the dressing. Add the feta and toss lightly again, then scatter over the olives. Divide the salad between two plates and serve with crusty bread. Serves two as a light lunch.

Random recipe #25: Bermuda Salad

I felt very old last week. First, I saw a group of new university students moving into their hostel accommodation and realised I looked like one of their mothers. Second, I got out of bed and put my neck out. Third, I saw several copies of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook in charity shops.

She was more hippy than hipster, but Mollie Katzen ruled the vegetarian school of eating in the late 1970s and 80s. She was part of a collective (it was the 70s, remember?) who ran a restaurant in Ithaca, New York devoted to good, wholesome food. The hand-lettered Moosewood Cookbook, first published in 1973, reflected that ethos (instead of a table of contents it has a ‘table of contentment’) and went on to become one of the 10 best-selling cookbooks of all time, according to the New York Times. The food, though a little dated in parts, is not unlike that in Ottolenghi’s Plenty, so if you see a copy in a charity shop, snap it up.

Moosewood Bermuda Salad
All that said, I felt a bit nervous when my hand fell on the book’s cracked spine when I was searching for a contender for February’s Random Recipe challenge. I thought of some of the book’s less appealing recipes, like Stuffed Cabbage or White Rabbit Salad (cottage cheese, apples, seeds) and wondered how I would sell those to my dining companions. In the end though, the benign gods of Random Recipes – or at least the beatific Dom of Belleau Kitchen – smiled upon me and we ended up with this gem. It looks a bit messy, but it tastes delicious. Don’t tell Mollie’s crew but we ate it with a roast chicken and it was a very happy match.

125ml apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
lots of freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
125ml extra virgin olive oil
500g green beans, topped and tailed
2 red onions, thinly sliced
1 cup grated cheese
two handfuls fresh parsley, finely chopped

Put the vinegar, salt and pepper and garlic in a large bowl (the serving bowl, to cut down on dishes) and stir well. Whisk in the olive oil. Add the sliced onion and set aside.
Steam the beans until just tender. Drain, then add to the marinade. Stir well and let cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving.
Ten minutes before you’re ready to eat, take the salad out of the fridge. Toss through the parsley and grated cheese just before serving. Serves four.

The instructions in the book are very explicit: “This is a COLOR SALAD. Don’t substitute white onions or cheese or you’ll lose the scheme. Okay?” You’re also supposed to serve it on a bed of red cabbage leaves for added wow factor. I didn’t. As for the cheese, the book specifies colby (ugh!) but we used tasty cheddar. Feta or Parmesan would be good too. The final instruction is to “Garnish Lavishly” with eggs, tomatoes, olives, sprouts, lemon slices or orange slices. You can take a book out of the 1970s, but you can’t take the 1970s out of the book.

Do you have the Moosewood Cookbook? Do you still use it?