When I came across the Six Degrees of Preparation people whilst checking out some other food related sites on the internet, I thought it sounded like a great idea - smallish 6 course dinners, built around one ingredient each time, showcasing that ingredient. I noticed that the next scheduled dinner was themed around one of my favourite ingredients - pomegranate. I thought it was really worth checking out, so bought our tickets and looked forward to seeing what it was all about.
The venue - Effendy Restaurant in Balmain - was really lovely, but sadly the food was a real letdown. It wasn't bad, just very average. I was expecting a real celebration of all things pomegranate, but the flavours were just not there. The creativity I had hoped for was missing and the presentation let it down badly too. Also, the servings were more "tastes", and we were both starving. Did I mention we were forced to wear name tags, so we could "mingle"? Awkward. Needless to say we made an early exit before dessert was served and headed to our absolute favourite late night food haunt in Chinatown - Mamak. Now those folks really know about flavour.
Mamak specialise in authentic roti and satay that tastes like it just came from a hawker stall in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur - and a real favourite of ours. Not only is it delicious, it is ridiculously cheap and of the best quality and freshness. There is a good reason they often have queues out the door! (alas, they take no reservations) You can find them at 15 Goulburn Street, Haymarket - and praise the Goddess! On weekends, they stay open for supper until 2am. They also have a restuarant in Chatswood, which I haven't visited. To get more information on the joys of Mamak, head to their website: http://www.mamak.com.au/ Highly recommended, and well worth the hassle of trying to park in the city.
Friday saw us head to the annual Good Food and Wine Show. We always elect to take a day off and go first thing on the Friday to beat the massive crowds, as during the weekend it becomes completely chaotic - teeming with people and shopping carts and prams and squealing tots having tantrums and slow walkers and AAAGGHHH!!!! .....well, you get the picture! Bedlam. The show is worth a visit though and we always come away with a few goodies for our trouble - this time we brought home 4 great cheeses, all from the Hunter Valley (including a gorgeous aged goat's cheese I have used in today's recipe), duck breasts, a stash of beautiful Careme brand pastry, a selction of Beerenburg sauces, a couple of kilos of lovely crunchy "Jazz" apples, some organic muesli and snack bars and lots of samples of this and that.
I noticed that this year, a lot of my favouite stallholders were not there and big supermarket brands and all things Masterchef related seemed to dominate. A real shame, given that in my opinion, the whole reason to go to these sorts of shows is to be exposed to new ingredients, suppliers, techniques and products. We did have a fun day regardless though - and lived on delicious cheese for the rest of the weekend! I did however keep a little aside.....
Which brings me to today's recipe - a gorgeous winter salad, bursting with colour, texture and layers of great winter flavours. I used a strong rich goat cheese - an aged chevre from Wyandra - and some baby beetroot as the inspiration for today's lunch. The beetroot is cooked twice with onions, creating a rich, sweet, caramelised taste that is a perfect companion for the goat cheese. I chose 2 different lettuces - red oak and spiky green endive, some smoky, crispy bacon, nutty chickpeas - and to top it off, a sweet/tangy dressing made with a base of delicious hazelnut oil and balsamic. This salad is substantial enough to serve as a main meal - toasted rustic bread would be a great addition. If you really aren't keen on goat cheese, feta cheese would be a good substitute.
Apart from the initial prep for the beetroot, it is quick to make and a real delight to eat - the perfect winter salad. Enjoy!
Winter Beetroot, Bacon and Chickpea Salad
with Aged Goat Cheese
You will need: A bunch of smallish sized beetroot, 2 cups cooked well drained chickpeas, 1 large red onion, about 4 cups of lettuce leaves (I used red oak and green endive), 50g goat cheese (I used an aged Chevre), 3 slices bacon, splash of olive oil, 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
For the dressing: 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1 or 2 tablespoons warm water, salt and pepper.
Method: First, take the beetroot and remove the stalks and the leaves. Place them in a pot of boiling water and allow them to simmer until tender - about 20 minutes. Rinse them under cold water and remove the skins - they will come away very easily.
Preheat the oven to 220C. Cut the beetroot into quarters and place in a small overproof dish or baking tray. Peel and quarter the onion and add this to the dish, with a generous seasoning of salt and pepper, the balsamic and a splash of olive oil. Bake the beetroot and onion, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes. Remove and allow to cool a little.
While the beetroot is cooling, roughly chop the bacon and pan fry until crispy.
Next, make the dressing - whisk all of the dressing ingredients together until well combined. Set aside.
To assemble the salad, arrange layers of lettuce, beetroot mixture, bacon and chickpeas onto the plates. Top with the goat's cheese (you can crumble it over the top if you are using young goat's cheese or slice it like I did if you are using an aged, richer variety) Drizzle over some of the dressing and serve right away.
Serves 2-4 people.