Beetroots aren’t something I’ve ever really got to grips with. I used to eat those pickled ones as a kid, and they were tasty enough, but they had the downside of tinging your wee a disconcerting red. Something that panicked me when I first noticed it aged about seven. It wasn’t until much later when the red root started appearing on a few restaurant menus, in veggie crisps and at foodie friends houses, that I started to think about it as something other than a slightly squishy sweet-sharp ball that came vacuum packed from Tesco.
What really opened my eyes, after a few desultory attempts to roast it, was when somebody served a beetroot and chocolate cake. Then a friend made a beetroot crumble and I tasted a brilliant beetroot and horse radish salad at the Anchor and Hope. It was deep-purple triple-whammy of a revelation. Red wee – who cares! After all, you know what asparagus does to urine… (middle class, moi?). Beetroot’s not just good, it can be great. If done well.
And so, it was with some interest that I read Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for what he calls “Beetroot hummus”. Then I saw
memelee’s meemalee’s (ahem – sorry meemalee!) blog on adding it to guacamole. And truly, I became a believer. I’d never really thought about what beetroot would do to a dish, what it would add and balance. Mixing the sweet root with bitter walnuts suddenly made perfect sense. Balanced by lemon, oil and garlic. Yes!
The result? A sweet, nutty and ever-so-slightly crunchy dip with an underlying deep savouryness imparted by the roast cumin. The beetroot flavour doesn’t overwhelm the whole in the way that the red devil can sometimes do. Instead, the lemon, garlic and tahini both bind and temper the bitter walnuts and sweet beet.
It’s a perfect combo that hits all the right notes. And it’s as flexible as a yogic flyer. You could mix it in to yoghurt for a smoother dip, spread it on some black rye bread for a snack, eat with a spoon. I reckon you could also add some cayenne for a bit of extra bite – not too much though. Or you might break up the détente in place between the big flavours.
A sweet and nutty beetroot and walnut dip
Enough for a big old bowl to serve 4-6 as a dip
Approx 300g raw beetroot (about four-five medium beets)
1 tblsp cumin seeds
2/3 tin cannelini beans
2 heaped teaspoons tahini
5 cloves garlic
Heat the oven up to 200oC. Wrap the beetroot and four of the cloves of garlic (squashed but unpeeled) loosely in a sheet of foil so that it forms a loose ‘bag’ around them. Put them in the oven to bake for about 2 hours. They’re done when you can slide a knife into it with no real resistance. Take them out and leave them to cool down. Meanwhile put the walnuts on a tray and roast them in the hot oven for about 5-6 minute until you can smell them roasting. Remove and leave to cool.
Put a saucepan over a medium heat and add the cumin seeds, shake the pan over the flame for about 45 seconds and as the nutty aroma starts to rise, pour out the seeds onto a plate to cool. Crush the cumin seeds in a pestle and motar or grind them in a spice grinder. If both are broken put them on a board and crush them with a rolling pin – that’s what I did.
Put the walnuts in a blender and blend them until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add the beans, a little oil and water and blend the mix to a thick mush – adding as much water as necessary.
Peel and dice the beetroot, add to the blender along with the cumin, cannellini beans and a good amount of black pepper. Squeeze the lemon and crush the garlic into the mix and add a couple of glugs of oil and water. Blend into a thick hummusy paste, adding water/oil as necessary to get the consistency you’re after. Serve with flat breads, pittas or veg.