If you’re like me, you look at every opportunity to cook for other people as an opportunity to create, experiment and just generally flex your culinary muscles. Not necessarily to show off, although I will admit to the odd twinge of pride when things work out how I hoped, but just because the thrill of creating – and then devouring – something new is almost as exciting as getting to share it with people you love. Knowing me as he does, my husband usually prefaces announcements of expected guests with, ‘Just keep it casual. Make something simple. Don’t go overboard.’. But sometimes keeping it simple is exactly what you need to do to create a masterpiece.
My colleague gave me a huge bag of beets from her mother in law’s allotment last week and, while I’m always grateful for fresh veg (especially free veg), it was going to take some creative effort to get through so many beets while they were still at their best. Then, lo and behold, we had guests imminent. A perfect excuse to use up most of the beets and, because they were free, that would mean I was allowed a bit more wiggle room within the ‘don’t go overboard’ guidelines.
So, what goes with beets? Salmon. I could stretch to salmon because the beets were free, see? And what goes with beets and salmon? Horseradish. What did we already have in the fridge? Asparagus. And a meal was made. There is nothing fancy about this meal, it really is a mixture of what we had laying around and what economical ingredients I could find to complement the ingredients we already had. But because the ingredients were mostly seasonal, and therefore have a natural affinity with each other, the result was much greater than the sum of its parts.
An old, dried up – and, I’ll admit, partially moldy – horseradish root, some frozen sliced almonds and a grapefruit which had been rolling around the fruit basket for weeks on end (but was thankfully not rotten in the middle) don’t sound very gourmet, do they? Nonetheless, with a few new ingredients thrown in they all came together to make something truly simple, but truly delicious.
The beets became this beet salad – sub any citrus juice for lemon juice, beets and citrus are friends. And then, instead of making the wholegrain mustard dressing I just put a teaspoon each of dijon and wholegrain mustard into the mix. The asparagus was roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. And the salmon was pan fried skin side down (70%) and then briefly on the other side (30%) for that perfect crispy skin. Whatever thickish dairy product you have laying around – sour cream, crème fraîche, yogurt, slightly whipped cream, whatever – mix it with some fresh (or jarred) horseradish and either fresh or dried dill or, like I did, dill pollen for that extra special je ne sais quoi. Pile it all with some arugula, or whatever leaves you have that are on the verge of wilting, dressed simply in citrus juice (the same kind you used for the beets preferably) and olive oil and you’ve got a showstopper of a meal that is both impressive and uses up the ingredients that need using up. What more could you want?