Flavour Pairing: Tangy Dill Walnut Beet Salad + Colourful Things in California

beet salad bite

In the past month, in the midst of my job search, I went on a few mini trips for the purpose of pleasure and to visit friends and family (previously mentioned here). It had been many years since I’d seen my sister and even longer since I’d been on the State side of the Pacific, what with the whole living in Asia thing. In fact, the last time I’d been to the west coast was for my sissy’s wedding to her fabulous wife 5 years ago. It was a lovely trip full of fish tacos, kitties and pretty nature.

The Ladies of Hanukah: Bee, sissy, mum and me. Thanks to Erika for the photo!

While wandering, I took a few (hundred) photos of those pretty natural things. Here are some of my favorites:

Green and yellow treesCA treeCA tree detailCA thornsCA mossNorthern CA landscape

4 trees in profile

ColourfulCA moss 2.

Beets are also colourful. And flavourful.

beet salad 

This recipe has converted a few beet haters I know. Beets pair astonishingly well with dill, which has been a traditional gastronomic practice in many European cuisines in various forms. Borscht in Eastern Europe and salads in Italy. With the aid of lemon and Dijon, this salad is an exemplary archetype of freshness. The walnuts add texture and creaminess. Do make. Do eat. Do enjoy.

beet salad 2

Tangy Dill Walnut Beet Salad

Ingredients

  • 3 large beets, peeled and cut into bite sized cubes
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 cup ( ½ a bunch) of chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp of diced red onion
  • 2 tbsp of dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ -2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp walnuts, crushed (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Place the peeled cubes of beets in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for 25-30 minutes. To check if they’re fully cooked, poke a large piece with a fork. Like a potato, it should be soft when done. Do not overcook, or you’ll have beet mash.

Drain and rinse the beets in a colander and place in a large bowl when fully drained.

Add all other ingredients and mix well.

Variation

Replace mayonnaise with goat’s cheese for a saltier, less emulsified creaminess.

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Flavour Pairing: Chocolate Beetroot & Black Tea Cake with Sweet Cream Cheese Icing

Yes: chocolate. And since you ask, yes: beets.

Dusted with cocoa powder and basking in glory

It was in Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus (one of my food bibles) where I first heard of chocolate and beetroot being paired. I think my head exploded a tiny bit when I saw the two foods listed side by side. Once I’d gotten over my initial shock of the idea, I found it made perfect sense to combine these two flavours (and textures, I might add). To my surprise, Segnit’s critique of the pair was rather negative. She wrote that it tasted like “a cheap chocolate cake that’s been dropped in a flowerbed”. No matter. Nothing could deter me from trying it. I was hooked.

Holy red and brown goodness

In fact, Segnit’s comments only fascinated me more. I wanted to start a chocolate and beetroot movement. Somehow I felt I had a duty to get the word out, because certainly no one else had the thought of making this sort of thing before…right? A quick web search proved me wrong and revealed that chocolate and beetroot cakes are everywhere. And in all sorts of forms: molten lava cakes, sweet breads, brownies and cupcakes. They looked good and the bakers/reviewers/eaters couldn’t stop raving about how gorgeously the two complemented each other. I felt the need to catch up with these baked goods. The challenge was on. ON!

 

Based on their individual flavour merits, beets and chocolate are meant for each other in cake form (or a gorgeous liquid nitrogen ice cream. Anyone?).  Here are a few reasons why:

beets for beet cake

Beetroot: Beets are unique for their sweet and earthy character. These qualities together have a tendency to turn people off. As a beet advocate, I find it tragic when people decide they don’t like beets based on one or two poor experiences. Like the time they tried plain boiled beets (or worse… canned beets!) or were the victim of someone’s boring, mushy cooking. The genius in the complexity and tones of beets is how they accent and respond to other flavours; sour, salty, herby and in the case of this recipe, sweet. The beetroot not only compliments the chocolate in flavour, it also makes the cake incredibly moist and light while still providing that rich chocolaty experience we all want when eating cake. Yum, yes and yeah. 

Chocolate: Chocolate has a wide variety of flavour due to the multitude of processing it undergoes. Cocoa beans, fresh off the tree, are bitter, astringent and pretty much horrible. Once processed, chocolate falls into the roasted flavour category. Left unsweetened, chocolate is still quite bitter, but the roasting process introduces a rich nuttiness that responds incredibly well to sweeter flavours. I like to think of cocoa powder as a black canvas ready for lightening, and since it’s sort of a black hole of roasted goodness, it is very forgiving and accepting. Chocolate regularly opens its loving arms to coffee, mint, fruit, nuts and chilies. I found no reason that beets shouldn’t also be a part of that following.

More? Yes, please!

Did chocolate beetroot cake disappoint? No, it’s only surged my expectations higher. There were no flowerbeds in my kitchen that day.

Chocolate Beetroot & Black Tea Cake with Sweet Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients

For the cake:

    • 1 ½ cup beets, boiled and mostly blended (about 2 or 3)
    • 1 cup cocoa powder (or melted bittersweet chocolate)
    • 1 cup sugar
    • ¼ cup black tea (or water)
    • 1 cup butter (melted)
    • 1 cup flour
    • 1 ¼ tsp baking powder
    • 5 eggs (separated)
    • ¼ tsp salt

For the icing:

    • 1 cup icing sugar
    • 1 cup plain yogurt
    • 3 tbsp cream cheese
    • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Peel and quarter the beets. Boil for about 30 minutes. Blend the beets in a food processor (I left a few small chunks unblended for a pleasingly colourful effect).

Preheat oven at 350ºF/180ºC/Gas mark 4.

In a large bowl mix cocoa, tea and butter together until smooth. When it mixed well, add egg yolks and the blended beets.

In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking powder and salt.

In yet a third large bowl whip the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold in sugar until it combines with the egg whites. Then fold in the chocolate/beet mixture. Once combined, fold in the dry mixture until smooth.

Pour into a greased pan and bake for 30-40 minutes. Test your cake by poking it with a fork. If it comes out clean, your cake is done.

While the cake is baking, combine your icing ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add more cream cheese to achieve a thicker consistency. Add more yogurt to achieve a runnier icing. Let your icing set in the fridge.

Let your cake cool. Then ice it. Then drool over what you just made.

Join the chocolate beetroot movement.

Roasted Beetroot and The Bridge to Nowhere

Beet Patterns

Habits. Habits are everywhere. You and I are hopelessly bound to them. We cannot resist them. We take comfort in the ritual of them. We admonish the addiction of them. It’s a love/hate sort of relationship we have with habits.

Year after year, time and time again we do the same things over and over. If someone showed me a chart of my life (they’d be revealing their creepy hobby of charting other people’s lives) I’d be pretty horrified to see which activities I spend most of my time doing (cute animals + YouTube = irresistible). Even still, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into change and growth, or at least, I think I have. It feels important to me to not get stuck in life. Actually, it scares the pants off me to look back on my life and feel like nothing’s changed.

B&W beets

Now, I think most would agree when I say that habits and behavior related to family are the worst. No matter how much I think I’ve grown up and changed, I always turn into the misunderstood bratty teenager around my family. I sit and watch myself go from (relatively) logical to utterly irrational. Fully aware of what is happening, I’m somehow incapable of preventing my transformation to She-Hulk.

Bridge to Nowhere

Last weekend, my brother, sister-in-law and a few family friends came to celebrate my new nephew’s naming ceremony. Baby Amos Ramana was, in part, named after my late father who passed tragically just last year.  I was moved to tears when my father’s memory was honored during the ceremony, which was short and sweet, but the festivities that followed were full of celebratory vibes. The weekend itself was stressful. So many family members falling into their old patterns and habits created enough anxiety for all to share. The next day, we all walked up Mount Lebanon to the retreat area. Our destination was The Bridge to Nowhere, a short, suspended bridge that leads….well, to nowhere. It ends abruptly in mid air and the walker is forced to a shaky stop. The idea behind the bridge is reflective. “You can go no further. Either stop, or find another way” is what goes on in my head when I am on that bridge. And so, I must find another way.

bridge feet

Taking family for granted is a bad habit of mine. I have come to realize that I cannot afford to do that anymore. Things don’t always end up the way I think they will and my family won’t always be around for me to finally work out my issues. So, I’ve gotta just suck it up and find another way around my habits. Change my patterns.

Roasted beets

Beets are the inspiration behind this post. They are very plentiful right now, so I’ve spent a lot of time looking at and preparing them. Their patterns are insightful. I am trying to let the wisdom of beets guide me through this challenging journey. I made some very simple and simply delicious roasted beetroots. Do enjoy.

roasted beets up close

Roasted Beetroot Fries

Ingredients

  • 3-4 of your favorite sort of beets
  • Cooking oil
  • ½ tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp ginger powder
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  • Preheat oven at 400ºF/200ºC/Gas mark 6. Cut the ends off the beets and peel them. Slice the beets into chunky wedges and place in a large bowl.
  • Add cooking oil and all the spices.
  • Mix with your hands (it works best) making sure that the oil and spices are evenly distributed.
  • Spread the wedges on baking sheets or pans. TIP: If you want your fries to get crispy (recommended!), give them plenty of space. If beets are too crowded they will release juices and start to get soggy. This may require the use of several pans.
  • Bake for 30-45 minutes (convection ovens will take less time).
  • When they are crispy on the edges and soft to the touch take them out.