A number of weeks ago two things coincided. One, I developed a sudden desire for beetroot. This is a very odd craving indeed. Beetroot is strongly, almost overpoweringly earthy, and difficult to cook – I find it takes much longer than most recipes give to actually go tender, especially when the recipe requires you to wrap it in foil and bake. In the UK it’s often sold cooked and vacuum-packed, pickled in strong, malty vinegar: an acquired taste by any means. However, I decided to go with the flow and bought a packet on the way home from work.
The day after I bought the beetroot was, coincidentally, a working from home day (I’m lucky enough to have one a week), so, come lunchtime, I could contentedly potter around my kitchen and pull something together based on all the delicious things in my cupboards, fridge and fruit bowl. The result was this colourful, punchy salad, which combines lots of great things. Firstly, the base is quinoa, a slightly grassy seed (a renowned superfood, it is often mistakenly referred to as a grain) which offers a high protein content (in fact it is a complete protein, rare in plant-based foods), as well as a relatively high micronutrient content, packing in particularly high levels of folic acid. I also like the taste, which is ever-so-faintly bitter. I combined this with the beetroot I’d bought – they were small, tender, and only gently pickled, lending some heft and a slightly acidic tang to the mixture. The flavour was punched up with some spring onions and rocket which were knocking around the fridge, and a slosh of lemon juice: sharp, peppery, bright. The whole was brought together with the cool, creamy blandness of avocado – such a calm flavour – and the lactic savour of feta cheese. Well, I used light feta (the taste was indistinguishable from regular, if you ask me), but you should feel free to use the regular kind. Halloumi or soft goat’s cheese would also pair beautifully with the grains and beetroot.
Eating quinoa, despite it receiving many a clean-eating stamp of approval, is not without its controversies – the export of this staple Andean crop for superfood-hungry Americans and Europeans is sending the price skyrocketing, meaning that local people in countries like Bolivia and Peru, where the crop is traditionally grown, can no longer afford it. Obviously, there are serious tensions and difficulties surrounding the export (or restriction thereof!) of many foods around the world. I personally don’t eat quinoa very often so am as comfortable with my consumption levels as I can be; the issue is complex and the boom in the export of quinoa can help communities as well as damage them.
I find that quinoa is satisfying but doesn’t always leave me full for very long. Combining it with the high-fat avocado (I feel compelled to use the magic words ‘good fat’ here! Avocado fat is cholesterol free) keeps me fuller for longer, and obviously the rocket and beetroot help bulk the salad out. I like crumbling the feta cheese very small so that it is well-distributed across the salad and to stretch it out, so that each mouthful has some cheese, rather than the first few.