The other day, I bought a bunch of candy beetroots from my local market. I’ve never seen them there before, and because they are one of the prettiest ingredients you can buy, I snapped them up eagerly. ‘Have you tried these candy beetroot things?’ the lady behind the stall asked me. She was making polite conversation, but probably got more than she bargained for. Instead of a casual ‘yes, they’re great’, I proceeded not only to tell her all the best recipes for candy beetroot, but also the correct methods of cooking it so as to preserve its unique coloration (steaming in foil), the best utensils for the job (mandoline), and its Italian name (chioggia).
So I reckon I’m fairly qualified to give you a recipe for this most aesthetically pleasing of root vegetables. Candy beetroot is distinguished by its characteristic concentric circular stripes when you slice into it; colours can vary from orange to hot Barbie pink. Sadly, a lot of the vibrant colour is lost during cooking, so you’ll often find these beetroots served raw and thinly sliced in salads (hence mandoline) with a tangy dressing to cut through the rawness. I like my beetroot cooked, though, because it intensifies the flavour. Wrapping them in foil and roasting them in the oven helps preserve some of the colour, while steaming the roots so they end up meltingly soft inside.
Thinly sliced, these sweet, fudgy beetroot with their pretty spiral patterns make a perfect salad with some oily seared mackerel, whose silvery skin has been rubbed with smoky paprika and a generous helping of salt before it meets a hot pan. Adding to the pretty-in-pink theme is a sublimely simple dressing: raspberry vinegar. This bottles the irresistible tang of high summer raspberries, and is a gorgeous salad standby – you can find it in a lot of delis and even some supermarkets, although it’s also easy to make your own with a summer crop of berries. The raspberry and beetroot pair incredibly well together, and both help to cut through the rich flesh of the fish. Added to that are some wild fennel fronds from the plants in my garden, which I used because I didn’t have any dill. They add a fresh, herbal aniseed note that stops the beetroot and raspberries from cloying. Finally, a scattering of toasted poppy seeds for texture, and to add to the vaguely Scandi theme.
It’s the simplest of salads to throw together – you literally do just put it all on a plate, without even the need to toss it – but it’s gorgeously vibrant, rich and fresh at the same time, and a perfect summer plateful. I love the contrast in textures and flavours, and the outlandish pinkness of it all. Vegetarians could swap the mackerel for grilled halloumi or crumbled feta/goat’s cheese, or you could serve it as part of a mezze spread (the salad alone is vegan).
Beetroot salad with raspberry vinegar, poppy seeds & wild fennel fronds; smoky seared mackerel (serves 2):
- 6 baby beetroot, around 2 inches in diameter (candy or golden beetroot are pretty if you can find them – a mix of colours looks best)
- 2-3 tbsp raspberry vinegar
- 1 tbsp poppy seeds
- 4 sprigs of wild fennel fronds, or 2 tbsp chopped dill
- Salt and pepper
- 2 fresh mackerel, butterflied (or 4 mackerel fillets)
- ½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
- Rapeseed oil, for cooking
First, cook the beetroot. Heat the oven to 180C. Remove the beetroot stalks but don’t trim them any more than that. Wrap each beetroot individually in foil, then place on the oven shelf and roast for 45 minutes, or until tender. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Put the poppy seeds in an oven dish and toast in the oven for 5 minutes, then set aside.
Once the beetroots are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and trim the ends. Slice into 3mm thick rounds, and arrange on a platter. Drizzle over the raspberry vinegar, sprinkle over some salt and pepper, then sprinkle over the poppy seeds. Roughly chop the fennel fronds/dill and scatter that over too.
Rub the mackerel fillets with the smoked paprika and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Heat a little oil in a non-stick pan over a medium-high heat, then sear the fish, skin side first, for 2-3 minutes each side, or until cooked through. Serve immediately with the beetroot salad.