Fresh globe beetroot

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Fresh beetroot. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Apart from the glorious colour of fresh beetroot, if you’ve never tried this root vegetable fresh, it is well worth checking out. The texture is firm, almost meaty, and the flavour of the fresh root is delicately earthy and sweet – sadly both characteristics get lost once it is pickled or soaked in vinegar.

The dense texture does mean it requires a lot of cooking, but you can enjoy small, raw slivers in salads – it bleeds into other ingredients so is best added at the last-minute. Small beet leaves are also good as salad leaves, and have a slight flavour of the vegetable itself; the larger, red-veined leaves can be cooked like spinach or chard but sadly they lose much of the red colour once cooked.

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Baby beet leaves. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Preparing and cooking fresh beetroot

Beetroot juice is very strongly coloured. To prevent staining your hands, you might want to wear thin latex gloves. Slice off the leaves, wash the roots thoroughly, peel thinly, and grate coarsely. Alternatively, slice thinly and then into fine strips for salads, or pare pieces directly into a salad using a vegetable peeler.

For boiling, remove the leaves, wash the whole roots and then place unpeeled in a saucepan. Cover with water, bring to the boil and cook for 1 to 2 hours depending on the size – golf ball sized beetroot are best for boiling and will be ready easily within an hour. If you cut the beetroot before cooking, you will lose much of the colour to the cooking water – although this is fine for making soups or casseroles when you will eat the cooking juices as part of the dish. Drain and refresh in cold water before rubbing away the skin. Serve as a hot vegetable or leave to go cold for other uses.

Beetroot bake well. Choose medium-sized roots and wash as above. Leave unpeeled and wrap individually in foil. Place the parcels on a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 200°C(180°C fan oven, 400°G, gas mark 6) for about 1 ¼ hours until the beetroot feels tender when slightly squeezed. Serve straight from the foil, split, and lightly seasoned.

Serving suggestions

  • Beetroot goes well with orange, apple, watercress, rocket, dill, caraway, cumin, horseradish, smoked fish, pickled herring, and goat’s cheese and other soft dairy cheeses or creams.
  • Toss thick slices of cooked beetroot in seasoned flour and shallow fry in vegetable oil for a few minutes on each side until golden. Drain well and serve with a sweetened balsamic vinegar and wholegrain mustard dressing.
  • You can make an instant beetroot “chutney” by grating or chopping cooked roots and mixing with finely chopped raw red onion, grated carrot, black onion seeds and seasoning. Mix in balsamic vinegar and sugar (or honey) to taste. Keep sealed in a jar in the fridge for 24 hours to allow the flavours to develop. Great with Indian food. Will keep for about a week, sealed in the fridge.
  • Peel and chunk raw beetroot and mix with chopped onion, carrot, garlic, cumin and ground coriander. Place in the bottom of a casserole dish, season and sprinkle with a little sugar. This makes a great base for slow cooking lamb on top – seal with a tight-fitting lid so that everything cooks in its own juices.
  • Shred raw beet leaves and add to a stir fry for the last-minute of cooking.
  • One of my favourite winter salads from yesteryear is Russian salad: a combination of cooked diced beetroot, mixed with cooked diced potatoes and carrot, some cooked peas, chopped fresh cucumber and some chopped pickled gherkins. Tossed in mayonnaise. Often topped with sliced hardboiled egg for more of a main meal. Also good with pickled herring.
  • Replace grated carrot in a cake or loaf recipe with grated cook beetroot. You’ll end up with a pretty pink bake with a deliciously moist texture. Note: sadly I’ve been too busy with work to bake this week, but I do have a great recipe which I’ll be posting once I get back in the kitchen again 🙂

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    Globe beetroot. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Tutti frutti loaf cakes (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, no added sugar)

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Tutti frutti loaf cakes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

No eggs, no added fat nor added sugar, gluten-free and dairy-free, these loaf cakes will probably sound either a bit boring, or too good to be true, depending on your point of view. Actually, they are extremely tasty and a wee bit too eatable for my liking!

This recipe is a great way to use up all those odds and ends of dried fruit you often have leftover. You can add nuts and seeds to the mix too if you like. Just after Christmas, I made up a bag of dried and candied fruit that was getting towards its use-by date, and put it in a tub the freezer, where it stayed until this week, when a craving for fruit cake came upon me. Combined with a recently opened bag of dried cranberries I had in the fridge, the frozen mix of chopped dried apricots, red and green glacé cherries and golden sultanas made up a colourful addition to my cake mix.

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Post-Christmas homemade tutti frutti mix. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The recipe below will fill 8 mini loaf tins or 1 large (1kg) loaf tin. The cakes taste better if left until the day after baking – the flavour and texture improves on keeping. You will be rewarded if you can leave it alone for a few hours! They also freeze well. I find that the lower content of fat in this recipe means that after 3 or 4 days, the cakes begin to lose their freshness; it is well worth freezing any that you’re not going to eat within a couple of days of baking, in order to enjoy them at their best.

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Mini loaf tins. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Makes: 8 minis or 1 x 1kg loaf

  • 250g stoned dried dates, chopped
  • 2 tsp good quality vanilla extract
  • 150g gluten-free plain flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 15g gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 10g arrowroot
  • 2 tsp chai masala or ground mixed spice
  • 75g ground almonds
  • 500g mixed dried and candied fruit
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C fan oven, gas mark 3). Grease 8 x mini loaf tins or 1 x 1kg loaf tin, or line with paper loaf tin liners, if preferred. Put the chopped dates in a saucepan and pour over 350ml water. Bring to the boil, simmer for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave to cool completely. Blitz with a hand blender or in the food processor to make a smooth purée. Stir in the vanilla extract.
  2. Sieve the flour, baking powder, arrowroot and chai masala or spice into a bowl and stir in the ground almonds and dried fruit. Add the date purée and then mix until well blended.
  3. Divide equally between the prepared tins and smooth over the tops. Place on a baking tray and bake for about 35 minutes for the individual cakes or about 1 hour for a larger loaf cake – a skewer inserted into the centre will come out clean when the cake mixture is cooked. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.  For best results, wrap the cakes well or store in an airtight container until the next day before serving.
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Tutti frutti cake mix ready for baking. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Packed full of colour and flavour. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Asparagus and sesame sushi rice bars (gluten-free, dairy-free; vegan)

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Asparagus is my favourite vegetable. It has been highly prized since Roman times, and it is peak asparagus season at the moment. I had my first taste of the new season’s crop a couple of weeks ago when I was on holiday in Sussex, and I have consumed quite a lot more since then!

The season here in the UK is brief: just  6 short weeks in late spring. In my mind, asparagus is one of the vegetables that tastes noticeably different when locally grown and freshly picked. The flavour is sweeter, fresher and nuttier than the varieties that are flown in all year round. I think it is well worth the wait each year and I am taking every opportunity to savour and enjoy it whilst these magnificent steams are available.

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New season British asparagus. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Keeping asparagus fresh. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

As with any vegetable, buy and eat asparagus as soon as possible after picking to enjoy the freshest flavour and juiciest texture. But if you do end up with more than you can eat, trim away the woody ends as you would with fresh flowers and pop the stems in a vase or jug of cold water. Either store in a cool place or put in the fridge. This way, the stems will stay fresh for at least 48 hours. You can freeze it, but I really don’t like the softer texture of frozen asparagus once it is cooked – I think it over-cooks too easily – however it makes the perfect base for soup-making or blending with mayonnaise or very ripe avocado for a dip, so it is worth freezing a few stems for this purpose alone.

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Preparing fresh asparagus for cooking and keeping. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I like my asparagus best when it has been griddled or roasted. Thin spears cook very quickly in a hot, lightly oiled frying pan or on a griddle pan brushed with oil. Larger stems are good for roasting –  brush with oil and spread out on a lined baking tray, and bake in a moderately hot oven for 10-15 minutes. If you prefer to use water, try to cook the stems so that the tips stay out of the water. You can buy tall upright asparagus steamers if you’re a big asparagus fan – these enable you to stand the stems upright in bunches – only the stalks are in the water whilst the tops cook in the steam. Otherwise, steaming, covered, over a saucepan of water is the next best way – keep the cooking water to add to your recipe as stock if you’re making a soup or risotto.

Here’s my recipe for sushi rice bars topped with asparagus tips – a delicious light snack for a spring lunch. If you need to trim away lots of stalk to make this recipe, keep the leftovers, and either use them to make stock or soup, or slice them into thin rounds and add to a stir fry.

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Homemade asparagus and sesame sushi bars. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes: 12

  • 150g sushi rice
  • 25g piece root ginger
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 3 tbsp freshly chopped chives
  • 4 tsp mirin, sweet sherry or white balsamic vinegar (Agredolce)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 12 fine asparagus spears
  • Fresh chives and flowers to garnish

1. Double line a shallow 18cm square cake tin with cling film so that the film overhangs the sides. Rinse the rice in cold running water. Put in a small saucepan and pour over 200ml cold water. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes undisturbed. Turn off the heat and leave to stand with the lid on for 20 minutes. It is worth checking the manufacturer’s cooking instructions for the particular rice you are using as timings and water quantities may vary between brands.

2. Meanwhile, peel the ginger and garlic and chop finely. Heat the vegetable oil in a small frying pan and gently fry for 2-3 minutes until softened but not browned. Leave aside.

3. When the rice is ready, scrape it into a heat-proof bowl and fork through to break up the grains. Add the ginger and garlic along with the seeds, chives, wine, sherry or vinegar and salt. Mix well.

4. Pile into the prepared tin, press down with the back of a spoon and leave to cool completely, then fold over the cling film and chill for 2 hours until firm.

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Making seasoned sushi rice. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

5. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Trim the asparagus to approx. 8cm lengths and place in a steaming compartment over the water. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes until just tender – insert the tip of a sharp knife into the end of the stalk is a good way to check it is perfectly tender. Cool under cold running water, then drain, place on damp kitchen paper and chill until required.

6. To serve, remove the rice cake from the tin and remove the cling film. Place on a board, cut into 12 bars and arrange asparagus on top of each bar. If liked, wrap a length of chive stem around each piece and arrange on a serving platter. Sprinkle with chive flowers, and serve with wasabi paste if liked.

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New season fresh, British asparagus spears. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

May bluebells and blossoms

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My Perthshire garden in May. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s May! My favourite month of the year. I’m so excited, I hardly know where to start. The weather has been fine and dry for several day and there is so much going on in the garden, I am utterly spoilt for choice. So here goes….

There are bluebells everywhere, ranging in height and depth of colour, and not just blue ones, white and lilac-pink stems as well. When the sun is up, the fragrance is quite intoxicating.

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Bluebells, lilac and white varieties. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Tall, white variety of bluebell. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The golden glow of daffodils has been replaced by the vibrant yellow of Welsh poppies which are blooming all over the garden now and will continue to do so throughout the coming months. The petals are so delicate yet the poppies withstand all sorts of random weather that a Scottish spring and summer has to offer.

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Vibrant and bold Welsh poppies. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I have high hopes for an abundant fruit crop this year. All the trees, especially the Morello cherry, have been laden with blossom. To me, the prettiest of all fruit blossom is the apple blossom, I love the deep pink buds which burst open into hint-of-pink flower petals. Pear blossom comes a close second with its intricate and prominent stamens.

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Morello cherry tree in full blossom. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Lord Derby apple blossom. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Concorde pear blossom. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The weather here in Perthshire is set fair for another few days, with no rain in the forecast for the foreseeable future. Whilst I enjoy the sunshine and blue sky, this is one of the worst times of the year for there to be little water for the plants. It looks like I will be busy with the watering can over the next few days. Until next month, I’m heading outside 🙂

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Bluebells under a May Perthshire blue sky. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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May bluebell, up close and personal. Image: Kathryn Hawkins