Ican’t remember the last time there wasn’t a bunch of bloody beetroot in the fridge. I know I should be grateful for those garnet-red globes for pickling, soup and grating into chocolate cake. The leaves of darkest green with their claret veins make it perhaps the tastiest of all the greens. (I sauté leaves and stems in vegetable oil with spring onions, red chillies and grated ginger, then pile them on to a bowl of steamed rice.) I should be thankful, too, for their juice – the shot of rose pink it provides in a raita and the way it mingles with green oil and red vinegar in a dressing for roasted vegetables. And yet in our house they will always be “bloody beetroot”.
We made a soup of them this week. (Two bunches, they seem to breed overnight.) Not the traditional beefy broth with soured cream I have eaten in Budapest and Warsaw, but a lighter, fresher version. These were boiled in their skins, then peeled and simmered in vegetable stock, blitzed to purée and served with crisp pickles and their juices.
We chilled it this time with ice cubes, but as the summer softens into autumn this is a soup just as likely turn up hot, the pickles a sharp and icy contrast for the sweetness of the roots. The recipe got a blast of horseradish too, first in the broth itself and then more, the ivory root and its funny little grater passed round at the table for those who wanted the heat turned up.
It is not only the beetroots that seem to multiply in the fridge, but aubergines, too. One minute there is one, the next there are four. (I seem to pick them up by remote control the way I do chicken wings at the butcher’s.) I am no fan of moussaka but rarely pass up the opportunity for a grilled aubergine with a trickle of basil oil or one floured, fried and served with a spritz of lemon. This week I roasted them with halloumi – the heat silencing the cheese’s squeak – and brought them to the table with a dressing of tahini, coriander and mint.
Beetroot soup, pickled cucumber and horseradish
If you are going to serve the soup chilled, then I do suggest you get it really cold for a good few hours before serving. I often add a couple of ice cubes to each bowl, too. Serves 4
small, raw beetroot 700g
fennel seeds 2 tsp
yellow mustard seeds 2 tsp
black peppercorns 6
cider vinegar 3 tbsp
cornichon pickling liquor 2 tbsp
vegetable stock 500ml
fresh horseradish root 10g, plus a little to serve
Bring a large, deep pot of water to the boil and salt it lightly. Trim the beetroot, removing any leaves and keeping them for later, leaving a stubby tuft of stalks in place. (If you cut too closely to the skin the juice will leak out into the water.) Boil the beetroot for about 25 minutes, depending on size. They are ready when you can pierce them effortlessly with a skewer.
Toast the fennel and yellow mustard seeds in a dry, shallow pan for 2 minutes, then tip them into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Slice the cornichons in half lengthways. Add the black peppercorns, cider vinegar and the cornichons and their pickling liquor.
Peel the cucumber, slice lengthways, then scrape out and discard the core and seeds – a teaspoon is the tool for this. Cut the cucumber into small dice. Add these to the bowl of vinegar and aromatics, then set aside in the fridge.
Drain the cooked beetroot as soon as it is ready, then remove the skin by sliding it off with your thumbs. Fill the empty beetroot saucepan with the stock, add the beetroots and simmer for 10 minutes. Grate in the horseradish. Put the beetroots and the stock into a blender jug (I do this in batches to avoid overflowing) and process to a thick soup.
Serve immediately, with the pickled cucumber and gherkins in the middle, or chill thoroughly first. Grate a little extra horseradish over as you serve.
Roast aubergine with halloumi and tahini
I use the chubby, medium-sized aubergines for this, but use what you have. They are ready when you can crush the flesh with just a little pressure. If you prefer, use feta in place of the halloumi, but keep the pieces quite large, a good 4cm in diameter. I tear the cheese rather than cutting with a knife, simply because it looks better. Serves 4
aubergines 3, medium to large
garlic a whole head
olive oil 100ml
natural yogurt 200ml
tahini 3 tbsp
mint 12 leaves
coriander a small bunch
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Cut the aubergines in half lengthways, then cut each half, again lengthways, into 3. Place them closely together in a roasting tin.
Tuck the head of garlic, whole and unpeeled, among the aubergines and moisten everything with the olive oil. Season and bake for about 50 minutes, until the cut surfaces of the aubergines are golden brown. Check for tenderness; the flesh should be soft enough to crush to a purée. Remove the garlic.
While the aubergines are baking, break the halloumi into about 8 large pieces. Add the halloumi after 50 minutes and continue cooking for a further 15, until the halloumi has softened.
Squeeze the soft garlic cloves from their skins and crush to a purée. Stir the yogurt into the garlic, then lightly stir in the tahini. Finely chop the mint and coriander leaves and mix into the yogurt dressing.
Bring the aubergines and halloumi to table in their baking dish. Spoon over the tahini and yogurt dressing.