This week I was finally able to taste the fruits – rather, vegetables – of my labour from my little doorstep garden!
Yep, that’s right – the notorious ex-herb murderer (note the triumphant and definitive EX- because I’m now nurturing some very healthy basil, mint and thyme plants) is overjoyed with some very significant success in the home grown veg department.
Back in July, I planted out some beetroot and fennel seedlings in large tubs by our sunny front doorstep as an experiment to see what could be grown in that little space.
After a hesitant start, the fennel took off. Soon, there was an abundant forest of soft green fronds that I had to regularly harvest baby fennel stalks to provide growing room for the stronger plants.
By contrast the five beetroot seedlings were very slow to make any progress after their transplant (possibly due to the violent shock of being uprooted – I’ve since been educated that my early methods were akin to yanking a family of five out through the roof of their old house and jamming them into the new one, losing several limbs along the way).
However after the shock subsided and they settled into their new, roomier home with its cosy surrounds of scientifically-blended potting mix, my family of beets began to show signs of shiny fresh foliage.
Cautiously stretching my green fingers has been such a wonderful exercise – not only from the edible side of things but also from the sheer serenity of pottering around in my tiny plot. I’ve grown to understand why gardeners are such a passionate bunch, because there’s a lot of satisfaction and calmness that comes from the tasks at hand – pruning, trimming, watering, staking, feeding, picking…
Bailey often emerges from the depths of his hidey-nook in the hedges to investigate what I’m doing out in ‘his’ territory (which is hilarious because he only ventured outside for the first time eight months ago and will still rocket indoors in a panic if a loud car pulls into the drive).
He’ll pad over purposefully with questioning meows and give whatever I’m doing a good sniff over (unless it’s watering, in which case a very, very wide berth is maintained).
As you can see, there’s clearly a size discrepancy with my harvested beetroots (which suggests there wasn’t enough room between plants, lesson learned for next time); they’re gnarly and knobbly and, dare I say, a wee bit ugly…
But I grew them and they were mine. And they tasted wonderful.
There’s no real rocket science behind this salad; just a bunch of flavours that work notoriously well together. With a sharp, tangy pomegranate dressing, the salad takes on a Middle-Eastern vibe and is filling enough to be a meal on its own.
beetroot, quinoa & kale salad
with pomegranate dressing & feta
½ cup quinoa
2 – 3 medium beetroots, scrubbed and trimmed
3 cups kale leaves torn into bite-size pieces and steamed
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
¾ cup finely shredded mint leaves
80g feta, crumbled
greek yoghurt, to serve
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp malt vinegar
1 tsp pomegranate molasses
1 garlic clove, peeled and bruised
1 tsp honey
Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F).
Start by making the dressing, as this will allow time for the garlic clove to infuse. I’m a big fan of garlic in salad dressing but too much raw garlic can be a bit harsh (and leave that tell-tale aftertaste). By bruising the clove gently with the heel of your hand and adding the whole piece to the dressing, you can infuse some of that flavour without overdoing it.
In a medium-sized glass jar, add all the ingredients and season generously with black pepper. Shake vigorously until the mixture is emulsified. Taste and adjust the flavours if need be, then set aside until ready to use.
Place each beetroot on a square of doubled-up aluminium foil, drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Wrap snugly in the foil and bake 45 minutes until tender. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
I usually cook quinoa using the absorption method (1:1 ½ ratio, quinoa to water) but do whatever works best for you. For the absorption method, bring the quinoa and ¾ cup water to the boil. Immediately turn the heat down to the lowest possible setting and let simmer for 20 minutes without lifting the lid (this is very important).
Once cooked, remove from the heat. Stir and separate the quinoa using a rice paddle or wooden spoon before tipping into a large serving bowl or platter. Doing so will allow any residual moisture to escape and evaporate, leaving you with fluffy, light quinoa.
Once the beetroot are cool enough to handle, grate the entire lot (skins and all).
When you’re ready to assemble the salad, gently toss the quinoa with the remaining salad ingredients. Season with sea salt (be careful though, as the feta is already a salty component). Pour over the dressing and serve portions of salad with a dollop of yoghurt.