Some of my favourite dishes are happy culinary accidents. You have a plan, it seems perfect and then for some reason something doesn’t work. Frustrating, but somehow, the solution offers up an alternative that you might not have thought of, so instead of one new dish, sometimes you have two.
I found myself in that situation this morning. I have declared May a month of health, of vibrant lunches full of flavour, and of new dishes. I was making it last night, and had some enormous beetroots that I bought at the farmers market on the boil for well over an hour and a half, but they were still hard. I left them in the hot water overnight, hoping that they might cook a little as it cooled down, but they didn’t. I guess they were really very big! So, I was left with some semi-cooked, but still mostly raw beetroots which wouldn’t fit in with my original recipe idea.
What to do with them?
One thing was for sure, I was bringing lunch in, so I needed to figure out an alternative. I surveyed the scene in my kitchen at 7am this morning. I had already cooked my Israeli cous cous, and it was waiting patiently with some finely sliced red onions in olive oil. In olive oil, as I wanted to remove the sharp acidic tang that they have, and didn’t want to use lemon as it wouldn’t go with the dressing I had in mind. I was using a fresh cheese, again from the farmer’s market. I wanted to make my own but they had sold out of their raw buffalo milk. What to do?
I know – grate them! Cue, rumbling in boxes for 10 minutes trying to source the grater (I have just moved house) to no avail. I did find my vegetable peeler so proceeded to peel slices from the peeled semi-raw beetroots, which I then sliced into smaller shards. They were slightly sweet, still firm and had a great texture, one that’s lost to cooked beetroot normally. Perfect!
I had intended to avoid balsamic in the dressing preferring something fruitier and livelier but couldn’t resist adding a 10 year aged balsamic that I found in my rummaging. Balsamic vinegar and beetroot are perfect partners. This worked especially well as the beetroot was only slightly sweet as it was very undercooked and the rich vinegar complemented it. I am going through a smoked sea salt phase, so used this to season with black pepper and it was delicious. It’s worth seeking out – Halen Mon or Maldon both sell it. Pea shoots added colour and texture, and a nice delicate flavour. Mint would work very well here too though, maybe even better.
Where can you get Israeli cous cous? Look in the kosher section of large supermarkets, or seek out Jewish delis. An alternative, which is a bigger bouncier and equally delicious version is mograbiah which you can find in Turkish shops.
I am presenting the recipe here as I did it, but really, you can just finely grate the beetroot too, it will be just as nice and certainly very healthy. Also, you can substitute the fresh buffalo cheese with any fresh cheese, goat’s curd or young goat’s cheese e.g. caprinhia.
Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot Shards, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots
1 beetroot (normal size will work fine!), whole
100g Israeli cous cous
1 small red onion, halved and finely sliced
100g fresh cheese or chevre, crumbled
A handful of fresh pea shoots
Extra virgin olive oil
Cook the Israeli cous cous according to packet instructions. Cool under a cold tap and leave to the site with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Peel & grate your beetroot OR boil for 20 minutes, then peel & slice with a vegetable slicer as I have.
Combine the cous cous, beetroot and red onion and dress with 3 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp vinegar. Adjust to taste. Season with S&P and add half of the pea shoots. Stir through. Place the other half on top and around the salad.
Et voila! Enjoy.