Wednesday, November 8, 2006

A whinge and some deliciousness

My local organic vegetable shop used to be good. A little outpost of hippiedom in the otherwise conservative and uptight wealth of one of Melbourne’s richer ‘burbs. Alas, no more. Recently the staff have been arrogant and rude (as someone who has spent a very long time working in retail, I am understanding of the odd bad day, but ALL the time?), the dried stuff out of date, but, worst of all, the produce has been lacklustre and really over priced. Such disappointment has led me to re-think the value of organics. I don’t think I am being unreasonable when I say that organic stores need to lose their sense of superiority, that air of pretentiousness I occasionally sniff in the air, and start welcoming people to what is a better way of eating and living.

Luckily for me, I have a choice of places in which to shop. Ah, the joys of shopping in Melbourne. Apart from the odd farmer’s market, I cannot think of a Sydney equivalent to the markets that abound in Melbourne and her suburbs. It is a city obsessed with food, and one that I feel most comfortable in. So, armed with our weekly budget of cash for food, I trotted off to Prahran Market last week to seek better produce and service. I returned 2 hours later, bearing a bounty of fruit and veg, some organic, others grown with love and care, but all beautiful and inspirational. Seek and ye truly shall find.

Beetroot is a vegetable I have a confusing relationship with. I love its deep and vibrant colour; I adore its juice; I hate, no make that loathe Borscht, and when it comes to the eating I had not been able to see its real worth. All that sweetness somehow seems wrong to me. Until now. You see, beetroot needs sharp and savoury flavouring to tame all that sugar, something I had suspected, but not been brave enough to attempt.

If, like me, you find yourself with a huge bunch of beetroot with glossy, healthy leaves, don’t throw them away. Cook them, stems removed, as you would spinach. Then make this glorious salad of the swollen roots and I promise it will change the way you think of this sweet veggie. Yum.

Lentil and beetroot salad
Serves 2

1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
Sea salt and pepper
1 shallot, finely diced
5 tablespoons of olive oil

To make the dressing, mix the juice, zest, a pinch of salt, and the shallot together in a clean jar. Stand for 15 minutes, then add the oil and pop on the lid. Shake like mad, season with pepper, shake again, and set aside.

For the salad:
3 beetroot
1 teaspoon of olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
½ cup of French green lentils
½ a carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 shallot, peeled and very finely diced
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
½ preserved lemon or 1 teaspoon of lemon zest (organic or home-grown if possible)
1 heaped tablespoon of finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon of chopped mint

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Peel 2 of the beetroot and cut them into small cubes, then toss with the oil – the third one will be used later on. Sprinkle over some salt and pepper and roast on a baking sheet until tender (about 35 minutes, but keep checking).

Put the lentils in a pan, cover with water (about a 5 cm depth over them is fine), add the carrot, shallot, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for 25 minutes. They shouldn’t be mushy, but need to be well cooked. Drain well and set aside.

If you are using the preserved lemon, remove the pulp from the skin and put 1 teaspoon of it into the dressing. Chop the skin finely and set aside.

Toss the cooked beetroot and lentils while still a little warm in the dressing. Add the preserved lemon skin or the zest, the parsley and mint. Grate the remaining beetroot over the salad, toss again and serve with a trace of warmth to it.

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