I am a real advocate of what I call the ‘meal salad’; multi-sensory, bold salads that are platters of amazing colour, clear tastes, contrasting textures and even a hint of fragrance. I crave salads that invariably cause you to leave the restaurant with a little dribble on your chin because you were enjoying your food and not minding your manners. In short, I want to know I’ve had a proper feed, and not just been fobbed off with lowest common denominator assembling skills. Just because it’s a salad doesn’t mean it can’t be interesting and taste sublime. Being a greedy sort I don’t think that some frilly-pants collection of lettuces, scattering of delicately sliced vegetables and thimble of dressing constitutes a meal. Yet, if you go out and don’t fancy the meat-heavy or sleep-inducing carb options, this is usually what is left. If you are lucky someone might offer it with a miniscule piece of anemic-looking chicken (which I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole) or trio of king prawns (yawn), but the equation ‘woman+salad=dieter’ seems to be behind menu planning at many eateries. And I resent this. The notion (as I imagine it) that salad-eaters are just looking for something to move around the plate so don’t bother making it interesting or filling is insulting and, in my opinion, wrong. Just because I mainly prefer eating plants to animals doesn’t mean my tastebuds and appetite are dead. Sure, if you go up a notch or two you will undoubtedly find something more adventurous, but probably still not filling enough to see you through to supper, or keep you from later devouring that carefully-squirreled away Valentine’s leftover (am I revealing too much?). Are you weary as well of shelling out good money at places where they spend more time planning the wine list than they do the menu? I don’t even bother now. And that’s a bit sad because eating out should expose you to tastes and ideas that inspire and excite.
I’ve really had quite a wee rant to myself, and involved you who may be perfectly happy with your paid-for salady nosh. Sorry. I’m miffed probably because the UK restaurant and catering industry has upped their game almost unrecognisably in the past 20 years, but this is one area that is still a bit ‘Betamax’. I don’t know how we can get more interesting plant-based fare into mainstream restaurants but here is the kind of ‘meal salad’ I would be happy to pay money for. Let me know what you would pay good money for – keep it decent, Miss R reads this…
Warm Beetroot, Lentil and Pepper Salad
I am a big fan of Sarah Raven – she of UK gardening fame but also an inventive cook – and the au courant London chef Yotam Ottolenghi. Although neither is vegetarian they both display cunning and creative flair to bring out the best in what could be quite pedestrian ingredients. I find that plant-only cooks and cookery writers can be a bit worthy for my tastes, and so I tend to be drawn to omnivores who speak vegetarian as a second language. This earthy, punchy salad takes inspiration from the writings and recipes of my two favourite ‘bi-lingual’ cook-chefs.
4 small or 2 medium beetroots, scrubbed and roots trimmed a little (the smaller the beetroot, the sweeter)
2 red onions, peeled and cut into eighths (with some root attached if possible)
2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into chunks
Extra virgin olive oil
Seeds from 3 cardamom pods + 1 tbsp coriander seeds, + 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns + 1 tsp flaky sea salt – coarsely ground in pestle and mortar or clean coffee grinder
150g/5.3 oz Puy or Puy-type lentils
300ml/10 oz vegetable stock + 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, and a little extra for later
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Leaves from two sprigs fresh thyme (lemon thyme if you can get it)
1-2 red chillies, deseeded and finely sliced
Juice and grated zest of 1/2 large unwaxed lemon
Rocket/arugula leaves, chervil and flat-leaf/Italian parsley – as much as you like
1/2 pack of halloumi cheese (about 100 grams), sliced into 1/2 cm depth slices
What To Do: Toss the beetroot, onion and peppers in 1 tbsp of olive oil and almost all of the ground spices. Put the beetroots in a small roasting tin and bake at 190C for 45 minutes – 1 hour. When the beetroots have twenty minutes to go pop the onions and peppers onto the tray. If you are a beetroot fan, you might want to bake a couple of bunches of beetroot for use in other dishes, or for pickling. Anyway, when the beets are tender when pierced with a knife, let them cool and then rub the fragile skins away and slice the juicy beets into big bite-sized pieces.
While things are roasting get on with the body of the salad – the lentils. You could very easily use one of the precooked packs of Puy lentils available in many UK supermarkets but they are really easy to sort from scratch and the suggested flavourings really lift the lentils. Pop the raw lentils into a medium saucepan with the bay leaves and cover with the stock and vinegar. Bring to the boil and then cook on a fast simmer (medium heat) for between 20 and 30 minutes. It is hard to give exact timings but check to make sure the liquid hasn’t evaporated at 20 minutes and give them a little taste as well. They should be tender but still quite firm: if your dental work is threatened, give it another 10 minutes. Drain as needed then pour the lentils into a wide pretty bowl to cool a bit.
Heat a griddle pan or saute pan to high and slap on the halloumi pieces. Griddle or cook until starting to colour or get griddle marks, then flip and do this again. I sometimes use the ‘light’ halloumi in other recipes but it gets bit dry if you do more than heat it through. Use the full-fat stuff for this one. Remember my rant; this isn’t a diet salad.
Add to the lentils the roasted, warm vegetables, chopped garlic, thyme leaves, chillies, lemon juice and zest, whatever amount of leaves you are using, then finally toss together with some extra olive oil and balsamic to taste. Sprinkle in the remaining ground spices if you like, and serve with griddled halloumi or hunks of broken feta cheese, and maybe some flatbreads. Enjoy!
10 thoughts on “Warm Beetroot, Lentil and Pepper Salad”
My mouth is watering from both this salad recipe AND the Spinach feta one earlier this week. Your photos are so good that I can practically smell and taste the food. I’m going to plan a trip to Whole Foods in hopes of finding Cardemom Pods. Thanks for the inspiration,
I hope you find the cardamom Anne. It’s not a one-hit wonder either: I put the seeds of a small handful of cardamom pods in an old pepper grinder bottle, along with some coriander seeds and black peppercorns, and grind it on to anything I would put ordinary pepper. The smell is fantastic!
On no, crivens, I served a wimpy mixed leaf salad, a morsel of meat & a thimble of dressing to some dear friends last night but I can only hope I redeemed myself with the more robust side salad at mains…..a roast aubergine & onion salad with garlic , lemon & tahini dressing with a sprinkle of roasted pinenuts and parsley to finish it. I added a pinch of sumac to the aubergine, a spice I know little about but I guess you can fill me in with any nutritional benefits sumac may or may not have? Your beetroot salad looks fab – its on the next menu!
As recipient of said salad (duck breast and salad mache), it was delicious, tangy and certainly the right size to whet the appetite for the main. I want the ‘proper’ recipe for the aubergine and tahini salad please. We all LOVED it! Great evening and fanatastic company. Thank you. Btw, sumac is good for the bowels.
As I have expressed before and will indeed feel the need to do so again in the future, you a food Genius!! After eating our way around Siena last week and commiting “Carboside”, Richard and I were looking for something to redeem our souls of sin and fill the vegetable void created but over indulging in pasta, salami and more pasta and salami! This salad saved our lives and re calibrated our taste buds back to the land of the living…taking a step back from a certain cardiac arrest brought on by saturated fats !!
Your recipes are inspiring and passionate and give hope to those of us that are easily lured into the comforts of easy cooking…..please keep them coming and help Richard and I continue to save ourselves from ourselves…Julie and Richard xxx
Thanks so much for the overwhelming and undeserved praise. You two know food and are great cooks so I’m flattered that I am helping you come back from ‘carboside’. I love that word – did you make that up? I promise to keep experimenting on my family and friends until they hold their collective hands up and beg for mercy (or McDonalds). 😀
My really good friend Julie exton has sent me through a couple of your recipes and I think they are amazing. Always so fresh, healthy and tasty! It is so nice to be able to just check out your blog and think now what shall I cook tonight as like I am sure I am lime all mothers who have 3 kids who won’t eat anything I put in front of them and I just always feel so lost as what to cook as so want to sit down with the whole family and eat but always end up making two meals one for the kids and then your yummy ones for my husband and I. Seeing your recipes gives me hope again as after having kids I do find cooking so boring! Do you do any recipes that would entice the kids to be more open to grown up food? And I was just wondering how I subscribe to your blog. I find your stories about every day life so grounding and down to earth too, you are such a good writer, you should write a book! Thank you Kellie, Best regards, Emma
Hello Emma. What kind words – you almost made me cry! So kind, and also instructive for me. Because I have a great eater in Miss R I don’t always think about those who may have children who aren’t adventurous (yet), but you aren’t the only one who wants ideas for younger eaters that parents would like to eat too. In my workshops at Maggies we do sometimes talk about such difficulties for the whole family when the person having cancer treatment wants to eat more healthily, so I know it is an issue for many. I will put my thinking cap on and tweak a few more family favourite-type recipes. In the meantime, my fish pie, turkey meatloaf (every kid who has eaten it likes it, probably because of the ketchup!), smoked mackerel & quinoa fishcakes, and even the sushi made simple (the kids can help) may be of interest. And, for subscribing, I think you just put your email address in the box near the top right, where it says ‘subscribe’, or something like that. Thanks again. Oh! If you have some recipe ideas for me to write about, let me know. I tend to do meat-free things but I will put in a few healthy meat things this autumn.
This looks really delicious- I’m hoping to have a go at this as part of my weekly meal plan