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I know, I know – three posts in one weekend. What is going on around here?

Well, mainly it’s me sprinting for the finishing line again – for this month’s No Croutons Required, hosted by the lovely Holler and Lisa. I just don’t work well without the pressure of a deadline…

Unfortunately, WordPress is not playing nicely today and doesn’t want to publish my pictures. Aaargh. Clearly it’s overwhelmed by my sudden spurt of productivity in the kitchen and has had enough.  (Update: oh no, it appears that there’s actually a gremlin in the system and the WordPress folks are trying to fix it. Although I see one of my pics has come up ok…)

Anyhoo, my entry is a butterbean and barley salad, with tangy beetroot-yoghurt sauce taken from Feasts by Silvena Rowe. Lots of lovely parsley and thyme too, since the theme for this month’s challenge was to create a herb-stuffed salad or soup. Handily, it’s also providing me with my lunch for the first few days of the week. Although the sauce is quite garlicky, so woe betide anyone who crosses my path/gets stuck in a meeting room with me tomorrow!

Butterbean and barley salad with beetroot and yoghurt dressing from Feasts by Silvena Rowe

Serves 4

You’ll need:

400g can white beans – anything will do – I used butterbeans because I had a tin lurking in the cupboard
200g cooked barley
50g sultanas (look closely, you’ll see I used raisins – oh, the shame)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
50g shelled walnuts, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
baby salad leaves to serve

For the dressing:

3 beetroots, washed
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
250ml thick yoghurt
35g ground walnuts

1. For the dressing, cook the beetroots in boiling water for anything from 20 to 45 minutes, until soft. Cool, then peel and place the flesh in a food processor with the garlic and yoghurt. Pulse until it is smooth and creamy. Pour into a bowl and stir in the ground walnuts.

2. In a large bowl, combine the beans, barley, sultanas, herbs and walnuts and mix well. Season to taste. Add the salad leaves and toss everything together gently.

3. Serve accompanied by the beeetroot and yoghurt dressing.

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So there I was, about to attempt a fancy, swirly sourcream pattern in some beetroot soup when I realised that the blobs had shaped themselves into a cute Scottie dog – or should that be a West Highland terrier? Hmmm, I thought. You can get coffee art, so why not (accidental) soup art? I’ve invented soup art!

Then I remembered that soup art already exists – in restaurants. That’s what they do.

Oh well, it was still extremely tasty and a rather vibrant pinky-purple to boot.

And there’s a sneaky, hidden ingredient to make this a proper winter warmer… vodka! Only a teeny bit, mind – 2 teaspoons per serving. Just enough to give a little kick.

But, seeing as I’d like to enter this recipe for the Weekend Herb Blogging event (hosted by Kalyn’s Kitchen), let’s concentrate on the beetroot and what it can do for you, as I think we all know what the vodka does in large enough quantities. And how.

After rummaging through a couple of books*, I found out that:

  • Beetroots are an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of manganese and potassium.
  • However, don’t throw away those beet greens – they’re even more nutritious because they’re richer in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C, as well as containing magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin B6.
  • Beetroots have long been used for medicinal purposes, mostly to treat liver disorders, because they stimulate the liver’s detoxification process (bringing us back to that vodka…).
  • The amazing colour comes from a pigment called betacyanin, which is apparently a powerful cancer-fighting agent.
  • Beet fibre has been shown to have ‘a favourable effect on bowel function’ (such a lovely way of describing it).
  • Those last two points mean that beetroot is thought to help protect against colon cancer.

So there you go. Beetroot – an all-round winner in the ‘good for you’ stakes, as well as being pretty to look at (once cooked, admittedly) and a pleasure to eat. What more could you possibly want?

Tipsy beetroot soup from A Paradiso Year (Autumn and Winter Cooking) by Dennis Cotter

Serves 6 to 8 people

You’ll need:

800g beetroot
3 onions
6 cloves garlic
half a bulb fennel or 1 stick celery
olive oil
100g potato
1,500ml vegetable stock
1 tablespoon fresh dill, fennel or lovage
large pinch cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to season
vodka
sourcream to serve

1. Cook the beetroot in boiling water until tender, then peel under cold running water and chop coarsely.

2. Meanwhile, chop the onions, garlic and fennel or celery, heat some olive oil in a pot and cook them until the onions are soft.

3. Chop the potato and add it to the onions, along with the beetroot, the stock and your chosen herb. Bring this to a boil and then simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, or until the potato starts to break down. Add the cayenne pepper and the balsamic vinegar. Blend the soup to a smooth purée, season well with salt and pepper.

4. Pour the soup into the bowls and put a teaspoon or two of vodka into each serving. Then drizzle a little bit of sourcream over the top and serve.

Cook’s notes

I’d maybe double the amount of potato suggested but that’s just because I like a really thick soup.

Vodka – I tried the soup both with and without it, and it works both ways. So if you don’t want alcohol in your lunchtime soup, don’t worry, it’s still delicious.

*The fantastic beetroot facts came from The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Dr Michael Murray and Dr Joseph Pizzorno, with Laura Pizzorno.

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I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
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