Is It Still Not Spring Beetroot/Walnut/Cheese Salad and Celeriac Soup

It’s still February, and you know what that means. Root veg, each claggy with mud, boiled and mashed and turning up everywhere, even salads. Salt, fatty pork, as sausages or bacon or cubes of pancetta, and the bitter twist of brassicas in your mouth. A seeming need to put cheese on everything. Really now, how much longer can winter last? Isn’t it bud and sun time yet?


There is some new green about, though. My winter leaves out in the garden – mizuna, spinach, chard – are bigger than ever, and last week we got the first fresh salad bag of the year in our weekly veg from Chingford. They got put to use when thrown together with baked beetroots, walnuts and crumbly Cheshire cheese, in a recipe I’ve bastardised from somewhere (possibly Nigel Slater?).


Wash three beetroots carefully and wrap each one in tinfoil, then bake in a medium oven for about an hour and a half. When they come out and have cooled, rub the skins off with your fingers. Don’t go touching any white curtains or cushions after: instead, find a child (or, in a pinch, a drunk adult), wave your sticky pink fingers at them and go ‘wooo-ooo’. They will probably be unimpressed. Slice the beetroot into forkable chunks and wash your hands. On top, crumble one third of a normal supermarket-size packet of Cheshire cheese, and finally a handful of broken walnut halves. Empty the washed salad leaves on top and leave the salad in layers, pink, white, brown and green, til you want to serve it, and then toss the whole lot together. I dressed it with a vinaigrette made of lemon juice, olive oil, half a crushed garlic clove, salt, pepper and half a teaspoon of grain mustard.


One celeriac is a good sized thing to include in your mashed potato, camouflaged as it is by being approximately the same colour and texture when mashed (although it never loses a little rootliness). This gives a vaguely sharp, herbal undercurrent to your potato cushion and makes it go well with a salty, fatty meat thing sitting on top. Two celeriacs is too much though. You cannot hide two celeriacs, even in a baby’s buggy or behind a curtain. Two celeriacs have to be soup.


Celeriac looks a little bit like someone crossed a swede with a squid. They are wrinkled, tentacley, vaguely sentient-looking. They might be a scarecrow’s brain, or the giant dimpled molecule of an element from another planet. Once you cut away their wrinkly skin, though, and slice up the white flesh underneath, they are innocuous enough, although their herbal smell sticks to your hands. Fry some onions with cumin seeds, ginger and garlic, and then stir in the diced celeriac and a couple of peeled, diced potatoes when the onions are soft, topping up with stock. Cook until everything is tender, then throw in washed garden leaves for a little green to break up the flavour: buzz it with a stick blender until the soup is creamy rather than chunky. Let it cool a little. Swirl in yoghurt, and crispy cooked bacon, broken up into fragments. Clutch the warm bowl in your hands, spoon the thick, savoury soup into your mouth, dream of spring.

Published in: on February 27, 2013 at 7:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

CBA Cooking 1

It occurred to me today while posting on another forum that I don’t really have regular dishes that I make, because one of the things I like most about cooking is the possibility for variety and tailoring what you eat to how you’re feeling. This week, for example, has been all about the asparagus and the role it can take in a fresh, cool but hearty salad. Asparagus and boiled egg on romaine, asparagus and feta in oregano-speckled scrambled eggs, asparagus, peach and goats’ cheese on a bed of sharp chard, rocket and sorrel. In January I would have told you without hesitation that all I planned to eat for the next month was casseroles and things with beans in. Two or three times a week I’d haul out my beloved orange ceramic Le Creuset casserole and absent-mindedly peel and dice swedes, carrots, onions and tatties and pop them in the oven with some cheap lamb, a pint of stock and a splosh of wine. Job done.

But throughout the year there are some things that I throw together when I haven’t been shopping or I can’t be arsed cooking – hence the title of the post. This will be the first in a series of posts about what I eat when I’m busy or tired or understocked or any combination. The first thing that comes to mind is papa wayk’u.

Papa wayk’u is, literally, boiled potatoes. Wayk’uy means ‘to cook’ in Quechua, but its Spanish equivalent is probably ‘cocer’ – to prepare something by boiling something in water. Papa wayk’u is what you eat in the Bolivian countryside to keep you going as a snack or a basic meal and it ranges from the basic to the delicious, when the potatoes have just been plucked from the ground and are boiled over a wood fire right there in the field. Eating an unpeeled potato is completely anathema, so although the potatoes are cooked in their skins one peels the papery peel off with one’s fingers before eating. They’re usually served with hard-boiled eggs and a simple onion salad, k’allu, which is made by slicing onions very thin, washing them in water several times to take away their sting, and combining them with chopped tomatoes, herbs and sometimes soft cheese.

In London I don’t have the patience to make k’allu or to peel the skins off with my fingers – although that is kind of fun – but I still have the habit of eating lovely floury boiled potatoes with my fingers as a snack. I boil an egg in the same pan and assemble odds and bits to go with them – a bit of tomato, an anchovy or two or some slices of hard, tangy sausage. If there’s salad then that goes on the plate too. Then I shake up a basic vinaigrette – 3 parts oil, one part good vinegar, optional squashed garlic clove/mustard/honey/soy sauce/salt – and pour it over the potatoes. Nothing enlivens a boiled potato like the silky tang of oil and good balsamic vinegar.

Then I scoff them up quick and get back to whatever I was doing :-).

Published in: on June 7, 2010 at 3:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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If You Go Down To The Woods Today

My housemate makes a lot of noise.  It’s her job.  Often I am lulled awake by the sound of scales being played on the French horn,  hymns on the piano, lovely Bach or the oddly charming farty sounds of the serpent.  But today in place of many of these came a series of excited monkey squeals. ‘Ooh, ooh, squee!’  she cried, ‘we found chicken-of-the-woods!’

Chicken-of-the-woods has tasty flesh and lives in trees.  So far, so avian.  However, it is a mushroom.  To be precise, Laetiporus sulphureus, an enormous deep yellow fungus that creeps along the shadowy crevices of  trees and drains them of their moisture until the tree eventually dies.  It tends to colonise patches of oak woodland and infest all the trees there.  Luckily, as infestations go, it’s one of the ones you can fry in garlic butter and have for lunch. (more…)


Wow, fellow pasty-faced Britishers! (And all the Britishers who aren’t pasty-faced, because Britishers come in all colours). Look at that sun! LOOK AT IT! Actually, don’t look into it, that’s a really bad idea. But good gravy, what a bright bright sunshiny day. I bet there are loads of you in the park grilling frisbees and tossing burgers and lying about in that frantic Northern European ritual of embracing the Day Star for fear it may never come back, while putting up a convincing front of lackadaisical devil-may-careness and letting the heat melt into your chilly bones.

Me, I’m celebrating in style. Not only am I wearing a strappy, flowery dress but I am eating to match the weather. Today is a melon and feta day and no mistake.

Luckily I’ve had a little honeydew melon chilling in the fridge for the last couple of days. It’s a one-person melon, little bigger than a grapefruit and it came that way because that’s how the nice man outside New Cross station with the £1 fruit and veg bowls sells them. This one was in a bowl of 3 for £1 and it’s been sitting contemplating its fate in the fridge. This morning, it’s nobly spilled its entrails for the cause – with some help from my knife. I sliced it into little bits and matched them with triangular slivers of feta, which I duly placed in my mouth while looking out the window at the sun. Oh, the collision of icy mellow sweetness and audacious milky salt! One tiny bit at a time, crumb and droplet, the odd couple of tastes eyeing each other warily before collapsing into a tangled embrace on my tongue. The result was both gratifying and refreshing.

The rest of my breakfast is crisping in the oven – a round, golden arepa like the face of the sun with some garlicky courgettes and a bit more of that feta to make it sharp. Oh yes. Here comes the summer.

Published in: on May 23, 2010 at 12:21 pm  Leave a Comment