My memories of beetroot are stained with the sour taste of it boiled, then pickled in malt vinegar, served on Sundays as part of our tea, along with boiled eggs, lettuce and cucumber, the egg yolk stained purple by the vinegar. My mother grew beetroot to pickle and to boil for salads; I refused to touch it once I left home, traumatised by these formative experiences.
Yet, its relative lack of pests, other than pigeons who peck the tops off if you forget to net the plants, and the occasional slug, makes beetroot such a lovely vegetable to grow. Full of vitamins, with white, yellow, orange and red varieties, the leaves also make an excellent green to eat. The Romans brought white beetroot to Britain, and you can get seeds of an open-pollinated white variety from Real Seeds in Pembrokeshire.
This recipe was the one that truly converted me to voluntarily eating beetroot; rather like a bright purple hummus, it livens up a salad, is wonderful with baked potatoes, and delicious in pittas with lettuce, or as a spread.
This is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. In her introduction, she tells us that a young nun called Protokliki, or ‘First Called’, in the Ormylia Monastery in Macedonia gave her the recipe. We make it without the bread, as Denis can’t eat wheat, or gluten of any sort. We bake the roots, rather than boil them – I’m obviously still traumatised by the thought of boiled beetroot. Very rich due to the walnuts, with an earthy flavour, a little goes a long way – it also stains clothes quite permanently if made with red beetroot. Simple and quick to make, weights are more a guide than exact – just pop everything into a food processor and taste as you mix.
Macedonian Beetroot Salad, or Pantzarosalata
180 gm/ 6oz of raw beetroot – can weigh slightly more as it will be peeled.
4 tablespoons chopped walnuts
30 gm/1oz of cooked potato [The alternative is the same weight of stale bread]
1 clove of garlic, peeled – I don’t think this is enough and we usually add at least 2/3 large cloves
6 tablespoons good olive oil (cold pressed, not light)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt – or to taste
Bake the whole beetroot wrapped in foil, allow to cool; the skin should peel off really easily, just don’t wear anything too light as it will stain. Your fingers will definitely stain.
Put the peeled beetroot, walnuts, potato, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and salt into a food processor. Blend until smooth – it should have a similar consistency to hummus. Enough for six people.