Thursday, September 16, 2010

The joys of country living: eccentric neighbours and fresh food

Anybody who lives or has lived in the Irish countryside will testify to the fact that it is home to some very eccentric characters. Characters who entertain and sometimes even scandalise with their antics.
Let me tell you about one such character. Máire is a feisty lady who lives up the road from my house. When I first met her, I was slightly intimidated by her strongly-held views on life. This is a woman who believes wholeheartedly in environmental principles and is passionate about her organic lifestyle. You can see this from her ramshackle home, where everything is salvaged, handmade or hand-me-down. You can see it in the vegetable garden she cultivates with help from her two sons. You can see it from the clothes she wears, the products she uses and you can especially see it in her animals.
Máire has hens who roam free. I don't have a problem with this but I did have serious issues with her goats who did likewise. They - a mother and her kid goat - would often wander into our garden and try to hold me hostage in my own home. There were several occasions when I was too frightened to leave the house because when I tried to do so, the mother would lower her head and try to ram me with her (not insignificant) horns.
It eventually got to the stage where my boyfriend had to threaten (in a lighthearted tone that hid deadly serious intentions!) Máire with the prospect of goat stew...
Those days have passed now. The goats are no longer (killed by a mysterious disease...). And we are on the best of terms with Máire.

In fact, she brings us fresh eggs (with the yellowest yolks you've ever seen) and a box of fresh veggies every Saturday morning. These are different every week; the arrangement being that she gives us whatever happens to be plentiful at any one time. Lately, this has meant a lot of lettuces, courgettes, leeks and beetroots.

Hmm. Beetroots.

I'm a pretty experimental cook but previous to this, I'd never cooked with beetroots. What to do with them?
When I'm in need of culinary inspiration, I often turn to the internet. There are so many websites with so many delicious recipes to discover. But sometimes I prefer leafing through cookery books and that's what I decided to do this time. I turned to my oldest cookery book, my trusty copy of 'The Complete Encyclopaedia of Vegetables and Vegetarian Cooking'.

This was the first cookbook I ever bought; aged 18, a fledgling vegetarian and living in Galway City. It has stood me in good stead since then, especially its section on how to shop for, store and cook every sort of vegetable imaginable. (Would you know how to judge the ripeness of okra, kohlrabi or salsify? This book tells you how.)

It didn't let me down this time either. So, in honour of my neighbour Máire, one of my best-loved cookbooks and beetroots, here's a recipe for beetroot roulade.

For the roulade:

225g fresh beetroot, cooked and peeled
1/2 tsp ground cumin
25g butter
2tsp grated onion
4 eggs, separated
salt and ground black pepper

For the filling:
150ml creme fraiche
2tsp white wine vinegar
Good pinch mustard powder
1 tsp sugar
3tbsp parsley, chopped
2tbsp dill, chopped
3tbsp horseradish relish

  • I rinsed the beetroot and cut the stalks to about 2.5cm above the beetroot. (My book said not to cut off the root as this would cause the red colour to bleed away.) I placed them in a dish with a tight-fitting lid and added 4-5tbsp of water. I then baked in a low oven (100 degrees or so) for 2 and a half hours, until they were tender, checking frequently to make sure they hadn't dried out.

  • Line and grease a Swiss roll tin and preheat the oven to 190 degrees/Gas mark 5.
  • Roughly chop the beetroot. Place in a food processor and beat in the cumin, butter, onion, egg yolks and seasoning. Pulse to a purée and pour into a large bowl.
  • In another spotlessly clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold them carefully into the beetroot purée.
Spoon the mixture into the Swiss roll tin. Level and bake for about 15 mins until just firm to the touch.
Have a clean tea towel laid over a wire rack. Turn the beetroot out onto the towel and remove the paper carefully in strips.
  • Mix the creme fraiche with the remaining ingredients. Spread this mixture onto the beetroot. Roll the roulade in the towel and allow to cool.
  • You should now have something that looks like this:
    I served it with boiled new potatoes (also courtesy of Máire) and extra horseradish.
    Healthy food, grown yards from my home; now that's what makes me happy.


  1. Yum! I'm testing recipes for a new cookbook at the moment, and next on my list is a luscious-looking chocolate cake made with... beetroot! I'll let you know if it's any good :)

  2. Ooh. Do keep me updated. I'm actually going to experiment with beetroot cupcakes for my cupcake stall. And good luck with the cookbook!