This was our first full year of growing at our smallholding on Middle Road. When we first moved in last October we hired a turf cutter and basically decimated one half of the front garden, cutting out six 9×3 metre vegetable beds. This allows us to have a six year crop rotation – so my life will now be divided up into six year chunks and by the time the alliums are in the bed nearest the house again I’ll be 41! We’ve chosen to grow all our vegetables organically using the no-dig method, which means we don’t dig down into the soil but instead allow the plants roots and the activity of the worms and other creepy crawlies to gently create an aerated soil structure over time.
Jo grew some absolutely beautiful and utterly delicious vegetables this year. As a cook it is very exciting to be able to harvest produce, cook a dish and then serve it to your guests all in the very same day. Beetroots and shallots were a couple of the real successes in the garden this year (not everything was a win – we had two corn on the cobs, each with only a single ripe kernel). Beets and shallots both store well in the right conditions. We stored the beetroots packed into a box with layers of dry leaf mould, which is made of leaves left to rot down and dry out. And the shallots were plaited together using their dried out stems and hung up in the cow byre.
I designed this dish for a dinner of sharing plates that we cooked for Belfast Design Week to showcase our beets and shallots. The vegetables were so beautiful and flavoursome that I didn’t want to smother them in dressing so just finished them with a little Za’atar oil and date syrup immediately before serving.
Makes one large salad – enough to share as a side between 4 – 8 people depending on how hungry you are and how many other dishes are going alongside
6 medium-sized beetroots, ideally a mixture of colours red, golden & chioggia
A couple of sprigs of thyme (keep some leaves back to sprinkle over the salad at the very end)
2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil (I use Broighter Gold)
1 teaspoon of sugar
150g soft goat’s cheese (St Tola’s would be a treat with this)
2 teaspoons za’atar (you can buy this spice mix or make your own with a mixture of dried thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and sea salt)
1 -2 teaspoons date syrup
Salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Start by washing the beetroots, keeping the skin on. Wrap each beetroot in tinfoil and put them on a baking tray and into the oven. The beets will need to cook for at least an hour, possibly a bit longer, it just depends on how big they are. You can also cook the beets without the foil, but I find the foil keeps in the moisture and means the beets are even more unctuous.
Meanwhile, prep the shallots. Peel them and cut them in half. Toss the shallots with one tablespoon of the oil, salt and pepper and the teaspoon of sugar. Put them on a baking tray and sprinkle over most of the thyme (reserving some to sprinkle over the dish at the end). Roast the shallots in the oven with the beets for 20 minutes until soft and slightly caramelised.
Once the beets are cooked, test by putting a knife into the largest beet, if it slides in easily then it’s cooked. Unwrap the beets and allow them to cool slightly, then peel them and cut into large wedges.
Arrange the beets on a platter or large bowl and sprinkle on some sea salt. Then add the shallots, nicely nestled in between the beets.
Dollop the soft goat’s cheese generously over the beets and shallots. Mix the za’atar with the remaining tablespoon of rapeseed oil and drizzle over everything. Finally drizzle over the date syrup and sprinkle on the thyme leaves.
The salad can be served warm, or at room temperature.