I find myself constantly searching for new ways to eat vegetables, to give them the space to sing. In most Irish homes vegetables have traditionally been the unwanted guest on the plate. Playing second fiddle to the meat and spuds. They were invariably overcooked, boiled to death. Limp and tasteless. And this in a country with an abundant variety of fruit and vegetables to choose from. And as for vegetarians…well…they came from some hippie otherplace or were seen walking the streets of our cities in long orange robes, ringing bells, giving out pamphlets and chanting ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare’. The Krishna’s had restaurants as well. I have vague recollections of eating in one of their places in Dublin in the 1980’s and another in Brisbane in the 1990’s. Both times I was broke and both times I was thankful for a bowl of dahl, rice and a vegetable curry.
These days we live in a different world. So different that my eight year old daughter, along with her school friends, has decided to renounce meat. So be it. I had already cut down on my meat consumption and my wife has never been pushed about it. She had stopped eating red meat since the BSE crisis – or mad cow disease to you and me – over 20 years ago. So it was no big deal. Having said that my daughters rejection of meat led me down a rabbit hole of vegetarian cooking. And it has been an adventure. One I’ve embraced. And continue to do so provided I get the odd pork chop or piece of chicken along the way.
I love veg and beetroot is a particular favourite; its delicious in a barley risotto, roasted and tossed into a salad, pulsed into hummus, made into a nutty dip or simply cooked, sliced and left in the fridge for little fingers to steal whenever. My daughter loves it. It’s colour, it’s texture, it’s sweet flavour. Which brings me to a new recipe, a new way of cooking it. Beetroot curry. My riff on a classic Sri Lankan dish. It may seem a little odd but trust me the earthiness of the beets is a beautiful counter-pose to the sweetness of the coconut milk.
Interestingly enough this dish comes under the Ayurvedic principles of eating. ‘Ayurveda’ is a Sanskrit word, meaning ‘wisdom of life’ or ‘knowledge of longevity’, and is the world’s oldest holistic healthcare system. It covers diet, natural remedies, lifestyle practices, rejuvenation and detoxification processes, hands-on therapies, as well as meditation and the principles of ‘wise’ living in order to have healthy minds and bodies. And beets play a part. According to Ayurveda practitioners beets cleanse and cool the blood, nourish the liver, improve eyesight, are good for anaemia, increase stamina and were used as an aphrodisiac in Roman times. So next time you see a bunch of humble beets in the market or the supermarket spare them a thought and think of all they can give you.
Ingredients (Serves 3 – 4)
600 g beetroot
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp coconut oil (or whatever you’ve got)
2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
20 dried curry leaves (or 1 sprig fresh)
2 – 3 small green chillies, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
400 ml can full-fat coconut milk
juice of 1 lime
large handful of coriander
salt and pepper
season your beets, drizzle a little oil over each one and wrap each up individually and put into the oven. Bake until tender – about 45 – 60 minutes – remove, allow to cool and peel. The skin will simply pull away. While that’s all happening chop your onions, slice garlic and set aside.
In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat your oil. Add the mustard seeds, stir, and let cook for a couple minutes until they begin to pop. Add the coriander, curry leaves, chillies and cinnamon, stir well, and cook for one minute until fragrant. Add the onion and salt, stir to coat and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 – 7 minutes. Add garlic, stir and cook one minute. Slice your beet and chuck them and your coconut milk into the pot. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover (make sure that the liquid is only barely simmering as high heat will cause the coconut milk to split). Cook until the flavours come together and make their merry dance.
Finish the curry by adding lime juice and freshly chopped coriander. Serve with rice.