Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Beetroot Salad with Cottage Cheese

A few months ago, I told you on these pages of my pear epiphany. As I get older, I keep trying to expand the list of "food I like" and, like an IDIOT, I had always thought I disliked pears. A pear and chocolate pancake proved that I was wrong, and that I had been missing out. All those wasted years! I can't bear to think about it.

It's not just pears - this year alone, olives, blue cheese and lamb have all successfully crossed the Rubicon from "hmm, would never choose them in a restaurant and might actively pick them off my plate" to "ooh yum, yes please and are there seconds?". But no one can rest on their laurels for too long. Top of the list still to be conquered, as far as I'm concerned, is beetroot.

It's not that I hate beetroot, per se. I appreciate its jaunty colour and I think it's my favourite element in a pack of vegetable crisps. But I've always found the fact that it smells and tastes of soil to be quite offputting, and nothing has really changed my mind on that. Even though my family is Polish and clings to beetroot as it does to potatoes, sausage and other hearty middle European peasant grub, I've never really chosen to partake.

For the rest of my family, Christmas dinner is unthinkable without a bright magenta splodge of Cwikla (pronounced Chvickwa), a Polish relish of grated beetroot and horseradish which stains everything on your plate pink and is (apparently) transcendentally wonderful with cold meats and cheese. But me? Nah. It gets near my mouth and smells like earth, I have traumatic flashbacks to the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and I put it back and turn away.

But I am determined to try again - at beetroot, not Duke of Edinburgh (god, no) - so I turned to this Jamie Oliver recipe. My motivations were a) I like cottage cheese, b) it has lots of other gutsy flavours which might overpower the aroma de soil, and c) it looks pretty. Shallow? I don't care. I'm also being a good wife as my husband loves beetroot and I never really have it in the house, so I am hoping that this display of conjugal bliss will distract from the fact that he doesn't really like cottage cheese. Look, we all have to make an effort at liking new things, ok? (Note: this tactic didn't really work as far as the cottage cheese was concerned.)

So did it work? Well, we tried it alongside an awesome Steak Sandwich and while I wouldn't go so far as to say the beetroot was my favourite thing on the plate, I did like it a lot. The herbs and balsamic did brighten up that earthy flavour, and the cottage cheese went a ludicrous bright pink colour which cheered me up no end (sadly not captured in those photos). I took the leftovers to work for lunch and I think, overall, we can call this a cautious win. I'd grade it a B+. Which is still a lot better than any beetroot has scored before, as far as I'm concerned, and I'll definitely keep trying. And this year, with the Christmas turkey and far too many roast potatoes, I'd like to finally add some Cwikla to my plate. In a world where so much else changes, I think family traditions should be embraced and enjoyed for as long as possible. Even if you never liked them before.

Beetroot Salad with Cottage Cheese
From Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals

- 1 pack of shrinkwrapped, cooked beetroot (not in vinegar)
- splash of balsamic
- olive oil, salt and pepper
- a few sprigs of mint (J.O. says basil, but I didn't have any so blithely improvised with mint)
- few sprigs of thyme
- zest of half a lemon
- half a small pot of cottage cheese

Chop your beetroot into easy-to-eat chunks and toss in a bowl with a good splash of balsamic, some oil, salt, pepper and basil/mint. Mix the cottage cheese with the thyme leaves, salt, pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and the lemon zest, then plonk it on top of the beetroot.

Have fun making the cottage cheese on your plate go bright highlighter pink - it's like the Cocoa Pops milk effect but for adults and in dayglo colour.

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