Grilled beetroot salad with pumpkin seed pesto and goats milk yogurt dressing
Making a salad can often feel like a slapdash affair; a few fresh ingredients quickly tossed together, fast food at its healthy best. So it was nice to spend a little extra time over the weekend to make this salad, packed with the sort of sweet, earthy flavours that I start to crave when the autumn comes.
Unless you are eating it raw, beetroot will never be a fast food. And whilst I do use those pre-cooked, vacuum-packed beetroots from time to time, they can be a little bit watery, losing some of their fabulous rich flavour and colour. Much better to cook your own, although this takes time. I’m amazed by the number of recipes that insist you can roast a beetroot in 30-40 minutes. The only time I roasted some beetroots, I was amazed at the length of time they took to cook, taunting me from the depths of the oven as they remained hard as nails for hours on end, disregarding my every effort to hurry them along. I’ve not roasted a beetroot since. But for this recipe I wanted the dense, sweet flesh that only roasting seems to yield, so I decided to experiment with simmering them and then grilling them to get that sweet caramelised flavour in a fraction of the time. Its still not exactly quick, but it does save on oven-induced torment.
Beetroot anoints everything it touches with its wonderful deep, dark pink colour, so I can only recommend keeping them off your favourite wooden chopping boards and to apply a thin film of oil to your hands before handling them, to prevent staining.
Start by simmering 4 whole, unpeeled medium beetroot until just tender – about 30-40mins. You need to cover them nearly completely in boiling water, topping it up from time to time if too much evaporates.
Whilst the beetroots are simmering away, make the pesto. Toast around 100g pumpkin seeds in a dry frying pan over a medium heat for a few minutes to intensify their flavour. They will snap and crackle and dance around in the pan, so keep them moving around so that they don’t burn. Allow to cool completely. Once cold, place in a food processer and blitz to fine crumbs. It took me a while to decide what herbs I wanted to add at this stage, in the end I settled on basil, for the more classic pesto flavour, and thyme which I love with beetroots. Put a good handful of each to the processor, removing any particularly stalky bits. Add 20g grated parmesan and 2 crushed cloves of garlic and blitz again. Then, with the motor running, drizzle in enough light olive oil to form a thickish paste. How much you need will depend on what consistency you would prefer, but I used around 120ml.
This is probably far more pesto than you will want to accompany this salad, but it’s worth having some leftover for other dishes and it will store nicely in the fridge if topped with a little extra olive oil to keep the air out.
Once the beetroots are cooked, leave to cool until such time as you can handle them and then slide the skins off – they should slip off very easily. Preheat a griddle pan over a medium heat, cut the beetroot into chunks, drizzle over a little olive oil and then grill, turning occasionally until the edges are nicely toasted.
To assemble the salad, scatter the beetroot over a layer of leaves of your choice. Drizzle over some tangy goats milk yogurt and dollop on some generous splodges of the pesto.
100g pumpkin seeds
2 cloves garlic
150ml light olive oil
A small pot of goats milk yogurt