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beetroot, orange & fennel salad

In gluten free, salads, sides, winter on 30 July, 2011 at 7:55 pm

I don’t normally post things the day I make them. I usually like to sit on a blog post for a day or two (at least), think about it a bit, maybe make the recipe again. But not this: the dishes are still all over the kitchen, my now-empty plate is sitting next to my laptop as I type, my fingers are still stained a brilliant hue of magenta from peeling cooked beetroot. This is one of those things that’s too good not to share immediately.

A couple weeks ago, I finally got myself a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty. It was one of those purchases you plot out months in advance and think longingly of every time you hear it mentioned or see it on a bookshelf somewhere. Anyway, ever since I got it I’d been thinking about making Ottolenghi’s beetroot, orange & black olive salad, mostly because I had all the ingredients on hand and I’ve been trying to become the kind of person who doesn’t let food go to waste.

But it’s been too cold to think about salads, and I’ve been living off over-the-top hearty fare: braised short ribs, Ottolenghi’s winter couscous, creamy rice pudding. Yes, when it’s cold out I almost exclusively cook with a cast-iron pot. So the salad went unmade.

Until today: a burst of sunshine, a bit of cheer injected into the otherwise dull winter cynicism a lot of us have been experiencing lately. So with a bit of optimism I set about making the salad, only to quickly discover I was out of olives (had forgotten they’d gone into some olive & feta muffins I made for Week Two of the Wellington on a Plate Bake Club we’ve been doing at work). I also only had one orange instead of two, and in a fit of excitement hadn’t read the ingredients list carefully enough to remember to pick up an endive at Moore Wilson’s.

The sun was still streaming through the balcony onto my kitchen counter, though, and not to be deterred, I made a few adjustments to Yotam’s original recipe: I halved it, substituted capers for the olives, used fennel instead of red endive, threw in a handful of watercress for good measure.

The result was the most beautiful, fresh-looking thing I’ve eaten probably since I got back from holiday in the Northern Hemisphere summer. It’s exquisite: not just the jewel-toned beetroot juices staining everything in sight, but the flavours too – sweet, salty, earthy, fresh, soft, sharp. Everything’s exactly as it should be.

(adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)

Slice off the tops and bottoms of a couple beetroots (I used 1 regular-sized purple one and a handful of baby golden beetroot) and boil in salted water until you can stick a knife in them easily. Let cool.

Meanwhile, cut an orange into wedges. Ottolenghi suggests you do this by first removing all the orange rind and white pith, then using a small, sharp knife to cut the orange into segments by running a knife down the side of the membranes. It means you won’t have any tough membraney bits in your orange pieces, which is nice, but if you’re short on time and don’t mind too much you could just as easily cut the orange into wedges and slice the flesh away from the skin. Either way, do this over a bowl to catch any dripping juices.

Peel the now-cool beetroot and slice into wedges; place in a mixing bowl. Add the oranges and their juice, 1/2 a sliced fennel bulb, 1 tbsp or so of capers, 1 tsp orange blossom water, 1 tbsp each red wine vinegar & olive oil, a handful of watercress, sea salt & freshly ground black pepper. Toss very gently with tongs so that everything’s nicely coated but still keeps its colour more or less.

Serves 2 as a side dish.

(For a version of this salad that’s truer to the original: Mairi’s post on Toast)

PS. Part Four of my series of old airline cutlery is this old Ansett New Zealand fork. A relic! (For those of you reading this from outside NZ, Ansett hasn’t existed for a while now. I’ve flown with them once or twice, on my first visit to see my grandparents in New Zealand when I was six. Unfortunately I don’t remember too much about the airline itself, other than being in Auckland airport waiting to board the plane.)
Parts One, Two and Three are herehere & here.
  1. Definitely gorgeous! Love the sound of these flavours.

  2. Ansett! That really is one from times past.

    Hooray Ottolenghi! Honestly, that cookbook is a marvel. And I do like a bit of bright fresh cooking in winter. It even looks like it’s worth going to the trouble of taking the membrane off the oranges – look how shiney and twinkly they are without it!

    I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I love that tablecloth :)

  3. Zo: thanks :)

    Laura: if I was in a hurry I would skip removing the membrane from the orange pieces, but you’re right – they’re so sparkly (and no icky-chokey-pithy stuff, though I don’t mind that too much) that it’s worth it if you have the time :)

  4. The colours are beautiful and sunny for these colds days, I love your creative exchange of ingredients, Ottolenghi would approve of the fennel. It’s one of my favourite books too, I am addicted to the black pepper tofu recipe.

  5. *sigh* ottolenghi’s cookbook has been on my (ridiculously long) wishlist forever now. Reading your post makes me want it even more now! Damn money for not growing on trees! Gorgeous colours.

  6. oh there’s a cafe / bakery in dunedin that has a copy of that book. I go there to read it .. ! also, Ansett! I remember when you had to go to different terminals at wellington airport (ansett or air new zealand) depending on which airline you were flying with..

  7. My friend Lesley has ths book and raves about it. Gorgeous colours – I’ve got the orange and beetroot, will get the other things tomorrow and have a go!

  8. I was lucky enough to get Ottolenghi’s Plenty cookbook for my birthday and have slowly started to try out some of the recipes. It is indeed a treasure trove of good food. Like your adaptations – I need to be more adventurous and just go with what I have in the garden. There’s plenty of fennel that’s for sure!

  9. peasepudding: oh I’ve been meaning to try the black pepper tofu, it looks fantastic!

    Emma: I know the feeling, this book sat on my wishlist for what felt like an eternity. I’ve already used it heaps, it’s definitely a good purchase :)

    Georgi: I love when cafes have cookbooks lying around… hmm, can’t think of any in Wellington off the top of my head but these things excite me! I wasn’t around enough to remember the old Wellington airport but I vaguely remember Ansett :)

    Anne: thanks! It’s a great book, too :)

    Domestic Executive: what a great birthday present, I’ve been working my way through it too. I’ve found so far that Ottolenghi’s recipes are pretty easy to adapt to what you’ve got – it’s fun playing around with substitutions :) so envious of your fennel!

  10. Love, love that salad. Bright fresh & light…Plenty is just such a wonderful book, I don’t think I will ever tire of it :)

  11. Now I know what to do with the very last grapefruit on my tree… thanks!

  12. Mairi: agreed, Plenty is definitely a keeper.

    Five Course Garden: you and your grapefruit tree, giving me pangs of fruit envy! But in the best possible way ;)

  13. Nice recipe.

    I was just reading how to grow beetroot and found your recipe.



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