Blackberry and beetroot salad
Summer is in its prime and the juicy foods are abundant. Berries, stone fruit, zucchinis and cucumbers all have a relatively high moisture content and sweetness at this time of year. A great way to showcase this is to use the juice from the fruit or vegetable and spike it with seasonings and vinegars to enhance the existing flavours.
There are a few ways to go about this. Heat/maceration ruptures cell structure and heightens sugar perception. When done to the right berry it can replicate the taste of fruit that is warmed in the sun. Done poorly it can completely dull natural acidity. Blackberries very lightly coated in sugar and left to sit at about 50ºC for 20 minutes can be lovely and delicate.
Juicing fruit and vegetables results in maximum liquid return but the downside is a loss of fibre. To dress leaves, juice celery and cucumber with some dill or soft herb before adjusting the flavour with vinegar and olive oil. Or to intensify flavour, reduce carrot juice with ginger and sweet wine to form the base for a classic sauce Jacqueline.
Pulverising acts in a similar way to juicing but maintains the fibre, which helps to bond the dressing. This works well for more pungent ingredients. Try using a mortar and pestle to pound shallots combined with fish sauce into a paste. This is delicious on grilled meats.
A key element to the salad featured here is the balance of sweet, sour and bitter. Each ingredient represents one element. The goal is not to mask those elements but to ensure they are working well together. I think of it as making each ingredient bleed without losing the structural integrity. If preferred, the whipped tofu in this recipe can be replaced with a soft curd-style cheese or a root vegetable puree.
Blackberry and beetroot salad
Serves 4 as an appetiser
– 400g beetroots
– 2 tbsp salt
– 80ml red wine vinegar
– 250g blackberries
– 30ml fish sauce
– 100ml olive oil
– salt and pepper
– 1 head radicchio
– 1 red onion
– 500g silken tofu
– flaked salt
Place the beetroots in a pot and cover with water. Boil them gently for about 25 minutes, then add two tablespoons of salt and 20 millilitres of the vinegar to the water before letting them cool to room temperature in the cooking liquor.
Wearing gloves, peel the beetroots by squeezing the skin off with your hands in a pinching movement towards the roots, then cut the beets into two-centimetre dice.
Put two-thirds of the blackberries in a mixing bowl. Crush the other third in a small pot with the back of a fork and then warm them gently over a low heat until the berries start to bleed. Remove from the heat.
Once the pot is at room temperature, add the rest of the vinegar, the fish sauce and olive oil, then season with salt and liberal amounts of pepper. Tip this mixture over the whole blackberries in the mixing bowl and crush them lightly with the back of a fork.
Clean the radicchio leaves in iced water and tear into roughly two-centimetre pieces. Slice the red onion into rings and rinse with iced water. Dress the radicchio and onion with some of the juice that is pooling in the blackberries.
Whip the tofu in a food processor or using a stick blender until it is completely smooth. Spoon the whipped tofu into the middle of a large bowl. Dress the beetroots with all of the blackberries and juice. Spoon this around the outside of the tofu. Finish with the radicchio and onion rings and some flaked salt.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 25, 2020 as "Little juice scoop". Subscribe here.