January can be a month of deprivation. The New Year’s craze for cleanses and fad for fasting, all in the name of renewal and improvement, is simply not for me. Life is too short to spend at least one month out of twelve completely miserable, trying to convince yourself that you can be satisfied on green juice and air alone. Isn’t it better to live each day in balance by making allowances for those meals that are particularly indulgent by sandwiching them between more saintly dishes, or just allowing yourself to really enjoy the beautiful food that can nourish your body and fuel your fire? What month has greater need for moments of pleasure than January?!
One of my little pleasures that provides both solid nutrition AND joy is the humble beet. Gone are the days when root vegetables were just sad, boiled, side dishes. Beets are one of winter’s gems, coming in a variety of beautiful colours and bringing along some earthy sweetness to any dish. From the ever popular beet and goat cheese salad, to the ingenious creativity of the beetroot chocolate cake, beets have stepped up their game and are often the star on the plate.
This month I’m serving up two beet dishes that are both delicious and nutritious. First up is my recipe for a Rainbow Borscht, which is made with 4 varieties of beets and a whole host of other seasonal veggies. There are a number of different national traditions when it comes to this soup, and this is simply one version of the classic dish, with a couple of twists to help bring its flavours to the next level. The result is a rich vegetable soup that perfectly balances the savoury, sweet, and sour, all while basking in its glorious pinkness.
The second recipe is an inherited favourite of mine: Gravlax, or in other words, salt cured salmon. The most traditional Scandinavian version sees the salmon cured with dill, salt and sugar. Mine makes use of the beet’s natural dye to stain the pink salmon flesh a beautiful shade of purple. If you’ve ever looked at your fingers after chopping beets you’ll know exactly what I mean! The earthiness of the beets is lifted by the herbal notes in the gin, and for me becomes a luxurious indulgence on some dark rye with freshly cracked black pepper, and a bit of butter slathered underneath.
There is no harm in trying to treat your body well (we only get the one, after all!), but there is no need to segregate food into camps of good and bad. Whole foods, prepared with care, can satisfy both the soul and the body. I hope these beet recipes strike that balance, because it is balance that keeps us right, both in life and in flavour.
lb piece of salmon, very fresh , skin off for easier slicing at the end
tsp whole black peppercorns
tbsp coarse sea salt or pickling salt
tsp white sugar
To serve: thinly sliced rye bread, seeded crackers, or crisp bread, perhaps with sliced cucumbers, a dill herbed cream cheese
Wash the beet and give it a good brush to remove any bits of soil. Trim off the stems and grate the beet into a mixing bowl. Add the gin, peppercorns, salt and sugar and mix together.
Remove the skin from the salmon, and place the fish in a glass roasting dish. Taking the skin off before curing makes slicing easier, but if you’re sure with your knife skills you can leave the skin on. Spread the beet mixture all over the salmon flesh and cover with cling film so that the wrap coats the sides and top of the salmon as opposed to being pulled tautly across the dish.
Put a smaller dish on top of the covered salmon, and pop something inside to weigh it down. Any old tin or jar will do.
Leave to cure in the fridge for 2 days. When ready, take off the weights and drain off the liquid that has pooled in the bottom dish. Rinse off the beet mixture and marvel at your beautifully stained, cured salmon.
Slice the salmon thinly, about 3mm, going against the grain. Try to slice it with your knife held diagonally, blade end tipped away from you.
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