I read about smoking vegetables with great interest and curiosity, although that has not prompted any action until now. What has gotten me over the hump is the repeated urging and inspiration from Yotam Ottolenghi in Plenty More. I’m also feeling the itch to try a new cooking technique amid the profusion of beets in the farmers’ market. Hard to resist making a seasonal beet salad. I’m glad I finally took the plunge, smoked some red and yellow beets and served them with creamy Greek yogurt and caramelized macadamia nuts.
I eat slowly like sampling a fancy dish in a fine restaurant, not sure what I’m about to experience. Besides all the exquisite flavor of the smoked beet salad, I can’t forget the tingling sensation of Aleppo chile flakes that linger when there is nothing there. A stunner of a salad for a long holiday weekend while joining the potluck at IHCC.
No special equipment is needed. A wok (or a sauté pan) and sheets of aluminum foil would do the trick. The set up is much easier than I’ve imagined. Smoke for exactly eight minutes.
After a brief smoking on the stovetop, the next step is to transfer the beets out of the “smoker” onto a baking pan for a 45-50 minute roast in a searing hot 520°F oven. What seemed to have consumed a good chunk of the hands-on time was peeling the beets afterwards. Next time when I do this, I’d wrap an aluminum foil over the hot beets on the sheet pan when they come out of the oven. Set them aside until cool. The cooling under wrap, adding moisture, may make peeling easier.
This recipe offers more than superb scent and flavor that leaves you wanting more. Besides the smoking hack, another bonus technique comes from caramelizing the macadamia nuts.
First, roast the nuts briefly. Melt the sugar until golden. Add and coat the nuts in the caramel. Finally, cool the nuts on a lined baking sheet. This sounds more like a pastry chef’s process, at which Ottolenghi is known to excel. In one recipe, I learn not one, but two, awesome techniques which I’ll surely come back to again and again.
- 1 1/3 cup/250g long-grain rice
- shaved rind of 1 lemon
- 5 thyme sprigs
- 12 medium beetroots (2 3/4 lb/1.2 kg), skin on
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 1/3 cup/50g macadamia nuts
- 3 Tbsp/35g caster sugar
- 3/4 cup/150g Greek yoghurt
- ½ tsp Aleppo chile flakes (or regular chili flakes, if unavailable)
- 1/3 cup/5g picked coriander leaves
- salt and black pepper
Smoke: Line a large sauté pan or wok with two large sheets of aluminum foil, with the edges generously overhanging the sides of the pan. Add the rice, lemon rind, and thyme and stir in 2 tablespoons water. Sit the beets on top of the rice and seal the pan with a large lid. Draw up the foil and fold it back over the lid to completely seal the lid in the foil. Any gap will hamper the smoking process. Place over very high heat on the stove, and, once you see a little bit of smoke coming through, after 3 or 4 minutes, leave to smoke for exactly 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Roast: Preheat the oven to 520°F/270°C. Discard the rice, lemon rind, and thyme, transfer the beets to a baking pan, and roast for a further 45 to 50 minutes in the oven, until a knife inserted into a beet goes in easily. Set aside to cool and then peel the charred skin off the beets. Cut the beets into slices 1/16-inch/2-mm thick and place in a large bowl with the maple syrup, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, some black pepper. Mix together and set aside.
Lower the oven temperature to 325°F/160°C.
Caramelize: Place macadamias in a small roasting pan and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Place the sugar in a small saucepan and cook over gentle heat. Don't stir as the sugar melts and starts to caramelize and turns golden. Carefully add the nuts, stir gently until they are coated, then pour them out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet to cool. Chop the nuts and set aside.
Assemble: Mix the yogurt with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Spread out the beet slices on a large platter, overlapping slightly. Drizzle the yogurt over the beets, then sprinkle with the nuts. Finish with the chile flakes, cilantro and a final drizzle of olive oil.
Adapted from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi