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Recipe: Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot Shards, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots

Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots

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.

Enjoy!

Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots

Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot Shards, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots

Ingredients:

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
Balsamic vinegar
S&P

Method:

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.

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Beetroot, Tomato & Goat’s Cheese Tartlets with Mint

Every now and then I make something on a whim, expecting it to be nice, and I am pleasantly surprised when it tastes even better and becomes an instant favourite. Enter beetroot, tomato & goat’s cheese tartlets with mint.

Last week at the market I was really stretched for time and sadly had no opportunity to make a vegetarian option. This was noted by a number of people, and I felt dreadful as some had come down especially for the tarts that I had made before, so I promised to make it up to them and did this week with tartlets.

I don’t have a precise recipe as I was making them in bulk and on the hoof, however, they’re really straightforward. I used little tartlet cases but you could use a bigger tart tin. Line the greased/buttered tart base with homemade butter shortcrust pastry, it really is far superior to shop bought, and is very quick too. I had a fear of it for a long time after my Home Economics teacher, horrified at my efforts, yelled: it’s pastry you’re making, not leather! I also have very warm hands. However, when making it, I do my best not to touch it, using very cold butter and binding the pastry with a knife, putting it straight in the fridge to chill, and then rolling in as much of a hands off way that I can manage. It seems to work well.

Start building the tart with a layer of mascarpone, just enough to cover, and spread some shredded mint sparingly. Layer boiled or roasted, peeled and sliced beetroot, for tartlets about 3/4 slices with 2 slices of tomato wedged between. For a bigger tart arrange beetroot and tomato slices overlapping so that the mascarpone is covered. Add some goats cheese, I used a soft goat’s cheese from Somerset, but chevre or similar would work well too. Don’t cover it, just enough to taste. Finish with a light and fine grating of parmesan. Bake for 10-15 mins at 200 deg celsius until the pastry is browned.

Reading this it could do with a step by step picture guide, I’ll do one soon, maybe for next week’s market. Hopefully you get the picture (boom, boom!). It really is very easy, and really delicious. The sweetness of the beetroot and tomato, the tart goat’s cheese, the freshness of the mint, and the creamy mascarpone nestled in the butter shortcrust base is a real delight. It’s on the favourites list now, and I’ll be making it for veggie friends when they visit.

Here’s the pastry recipe. A note on the eggs: they’re not essential but give it a lovely richness. Use the best you can afford, I love the pretty blue Old Cotswold Legbars or Burford Browns. At the very least free range, if you can.

Homemade Butter Shortcrust Pastry Recipe

(enough for two large tarts or many little ones – this is the amount that uses exactly one packet of butter)

Ingredients:

250g chilled butter

500g plain flour

2 beaten eggs, and the equivalent amount of cold water

Method:

Sift the flour. Add the butter in cubes and mix with your fingers until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Add the water and eggs a little at a time, blending in with a knife until it starts to take shape. Don’t let it get too wet, it’s fine if it’s a little crumbly (wet pastry, like a wet gizmo, makes a gremlin ;). Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Roll on a floured surface to your desired thickness, taking care not to overwork it.

And, that’s it! Not so scary, eh?