Personally, I’ve never been a fan of beets, I think as result of my adult aversion to sweetness, which in turn must be born of my childhood addiction to candy. Growing older, I came to scorn sweet things, as I gradually, and then rapidly (from my late teens) came to appreciate the thrilling spectrum of flavour sensations that good cooking delivers: bitter, tangy, spicy, savoury. As my palate has developed further, though, I’ve come to appreciate how the earthy sweetness of something like roasted beetroot beautifully contrasts with other flavours, such as here, with the freshness and clarity of mint, the salty tang of feta, and the mild spiciness and delicate crunch of thinly-sliced Spanish onion. Speaking as someone who once only ate canned beetroot on her burger, I can heartily recommend this salad--even to those who think they don't like beets. The recipe is Greek-inspired, but can be taken to Italy (with proscuitto) or southern Spain (cucumber). The cucumber/proscuitto variation also gives the option to keep this vegetarian, or not; both work equally well, though with cucumber the salad becomes beautifully fresh and cooling, and definitely more of a summer dish. —AbigailSophie
cloves garlic, peeled
dried red chilli flakes (optional)
Spanish (red) onion, peeled, sliced thinly into half-moons
feta cheese, cubed or roughly crumbled
small (Lebanese) cucumber (optional)
proscuitto, torn into strips and fried until crisp (optional)
Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius. Combine the lemon juice, 2 tbsp of the olive oil, sugar, dried oregano, and salt, whisking until amalgamated, and set aside.
Remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs by running your fingers down the stem. Wash and trim the beets, prick them with a fork, and toss them with half of the olive oil, the garlic cloves, thyme leaves, chilli flakes (if using) and some salt and pepper, ensuring everything is coated in oil.
Place the beets in a baking dish and roast 20-30 minutes (shaking the dish to turn the beets occasionally) or until the beets are tender (test with a knife; this may take more or less time, depending on the size of your beets and heat of your oven). Alternatively, skip the first steps, and simply simmer the beets with the garlic and thyme sprigs, covered, for 15-20 minutes until you can pierce centres with a knife. (Be aware though, that your beets won’t be as richly sweet as roasted ones.)
Peel the beets by rubbing off the loosened skins (wearing gloves to avoid pink hands). Slice the cooked, peeled beetroot into approximately 1cm-thick rounds, and arrange on a plate. Scatter over the feta, onion, and cucumber or prosciutto if using, and tear the mint over. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve.