24 September 2007

Wm's Improvised Beet Salad, Thai Flavor

  • several medium roasted beets

  • one large-ish cucumber, or most of one of those European "burpless" ones

  • cayenne pepper

  • one lime

  • fish sauce

  • cilantro, if you're not one of those people for whom it tastes like soap

The best way to roast the beets I've found is to trim, wash and wrap them individually in foil and bake at 350 until tender, about 50-70 minutes for medium beets, 90 for the big daddies we're getting this late in autumn. Peeling them after roasting is a greater danger to clothing, but much easier.

After the beets are cooled and peeled, medium dice the beets and the cuke — seed the cuke if it it's one of the watery varieties. Toss in a bowl with the juice of the lime, several sturdy dashes of the cayenne and at least 1 tsp of fish sauce, more if you share my fondness for it. If you're afraid of the fish sauce, you may want add some salt. Chill for a bit, toss in a handful of cilantro before serving.

There are in both Thai and ancient Roman cooking simple recipes which pair melon and fish sauce. Beets aren't quite like melons, but it's hard to lose with the the sweet + tart + salty combo. Here's the Roman recipe, from Apicius (85):

pepones et melones: piper, puleinum, mel vel passum, liquamen, acetum. interdum et silfi accedit.

Cantaloupe and melon: pepper, pennyroyal, honey or passum, fish sauce , vinegar. Sometimes also silphium is added.

Passum was a sweet wine made from raisins. Sylphium is a probably extinct plant about which ethnobotanists dearly love to speculate. It may have been like a milder asafoedita.


Nicholas said...

Sounds delicious! I've missed your culinary posts. And thanks for the Apicius recipe too; I'm very interested in ancient cuisine, and this might be a good dish for a classics dept function. Were you reading Apicius, or do you have a book on ancient food? N.

Wm said...

Sounds delicious!

It's even better one day later, and not just because of the color the cucumber turns.

Were you reading Apicius, or do you have a book on ancient food?

I have two books which are translations of Apicius. Both, fortunately, include the Latin. A Taste of Ancient Rome, by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, an English translation of the Italian, makes a bigger effort to make the recipes workable for a modern kitchen. I'll not mention the other one — it's old, there are far better resouces on Apicius easily available these days.