My son Hugh is a vegetarian, and two years ago for Christmas I gave him Yotam Ottolenghi's wonderful cookbook, "Plenty." This Christmas, Hugh reciprocated with "Jerusalem" by Ottolenghi and his restaurant partner, Sami Tamimi. Both books have a strange pillowy cover to them, as though the authors were offering a soft place to lay my head should the need to nap overcome me while cooking dinner. No sleep for me though; there is too much excitement on offer in the pages of this cookbook.
I love Middle Eastern food, but I must say that beets are not a vegetable that springs to mind when I think of the cuisine of Jerusalem. Turns out that Georgian Jews brought their Russian, Persian and Turkish food influences to Jerusalem, bringing along beets and dressing them with walnuts and pomegranates, which fit in nicely with the neighborhood. This is a terrific salad, with lots of great textures and a wonderful mixture of earthy and tart with a nice piquant dressing.
Beets take a while to cook, so the total time looks daunting, but this was a very easy recipe to make. Although the recipe says the leeks should cook for 10 minutes, mine cooked for closer to 20. If you are one of those people who hates cilantro, just substitute some flat leaf parsley.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1.5 to 2 hours
Yield: 4 servings
Spicy Beet, Leek and Walnut Salad
- 4 medium beets
- 4 medium leeks, cut into 4-inch segments
- 1/2 oz cilantro, coarsely chopped
- 1 1/4 cups arugula
- 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds (optional)
- 1 cup walnuts, coarsely copped
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoon tamarind water
- 1/2 teaspoon walnut oil
- 2 1/2 tablespoon walnut oil
- 2 1/2 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil and roast them in the oven to 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on their size. Once cooked, you should be able to stick a small knife through to the center easily. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, peel the beets, halve them and cut each half into wedges 3/8 inch thick at the base. Put in a medium bowl and set aside.
- Place the leeks in a medium pan with salted water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes, until just cooked; it's important to simmer them gently and not to overcook them, so they don't fall apart. Drain and refresh under cold water, then use a very sharp serrated knife to cut each segment into 3 smaller pieces and pat dry. Transfer to a bowl, separate from the beets, and set aside.
- While the vegetables are cooking, mix together all the dressing ingredients (starting with walnuts through salt) and leave to one side for at least 10 minutes for all the flavors to come together.
- Divide the walnut dressing and the cilantro equally between the beets and the leeks and toss gently. Taste both and add more salt if needed. To put the salad together, spread most of the beets on a serving platter, top with some arugula, then most of the leeks, then the remaining beets, and finish with more leeks and arugula. Sprinkle over the pomengranate seeds, if using, and serve.