Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Roast Beetroot, pumpkin and feta/haloumi cheese salad

This is one of my favourite salads ever. Tasted a very similar one at a friend's house, and completely fell in love. Went to the market the very next day to try and recreate it, and it's my “staple” salad to bring to friend's houses and family do's, as everyone seems to love it as much as I do. It's ideal when beetroot is in season, however if you use tinned baby beets or wedges (not slices) it still works well.

Remember to roast the pumpkin and (if you're using fresh) beetroot at least a couple of hours before, as well as cooking the onions. They need to be completely cool before assembling the salad.

I need to make a point and say that if a salad doesn't include iceberg lettuce, it's already a winner for me. I'm REALLY not a big fan of iceberg in anything except as the Thais/Vietnamese have it (they use it as a handheld "cup" for spring rolls etc to catch sauce.. an edible serviette if you like). I'm a HUGE fan of other leaves though, any leaves at all, baby (and regular!) rocket, lamb's lettuce (mache/valeriana), baby spinach, oak lettuce, watercress... This salad works well with the peppery tastiness of rocket and lamb's lettuce, however please feel free to use any tender dark green leaves whatsoever.

Side note: If you're living in Malta, and in a traditional village, you may have tasted "insalata". this is the word used to describe the old style Maltese rocket - which packs HEAPS of punch compared to the tender baby leaves you find. I added just a few leaves to this salad.. it's really strong. However if you get a chance to buy some from your "tal-haxix" man, I highly recommend some Maltese bread, kunserva, Pepato cheese and some of this rocket. it's possibly one of the tastiest sammiches ever! :D Traditionally also it's eaten in Malta just with butter and Maltese bread. it's seriously so tangy and flavoursome! :)

end sidenote and on to the salad recipe :D

Roast Beetroot, pumpkin and cheese salad :)

  • About 1kg Butter-nut pumpkin (or butter-nut squash as it's called in the UK, or Qara Hamra mit-tawwallija in Malta) - chop into 1 inch cubes. if you can't find butter-nuts buy regular pumpkin, I use butter-nut as it stays relatively firm. Keep the skin on - it tastes really good in salads! I don't always peel my pumpkins, and like potatoes, I like them both ways :D
  • 2-3 largish Beetroot - Chop off leaves (you can save these and cook them like spinach!) wash but don't peel, wrap in foil. If unavailable, use a largish tin of baby beets/beetroot wedges.
  • 80ish grams pine-nuts
  • dodoni feta - something firm or crumbly (not creamy), strong, salty and tangy - that's why the Greek/Cyprian cheeses are great :) about 250g If available this salad takes on a whole new level if you make it with Haloumi**
  • Baby rocket (or whatever tasty leaves you find – there's a great mix called “tuttoinsieme” or something in Malta, it's the shit! :) Mache (lamb's lettuce) would work well as it's slightly bitter also and goes well with the sweetness of the pumpkin. "Bitter" greens are teh awesome!
  • Spanish onions (the purple ones, not sure what you call em there!) sliced as think as you can possibly slice them into rings/half rings.
  • Extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pepper, salt, Herbes de Provence*** (or a mix of dried thyme/rosemary if unavailable), honey.
put oven on 475F or 200C
- Place beets in oven on a tray - they'll be done in around 35-60 minutes, depending on size. Take them out when you can just put a skewer or fork into them easily. Once they're done take them out but leave them wrapped in foil to cool. When cooled, unwrap the beets and use the foil (and ideally your hands in gloves/sandwich bags unless you like purple hands for a couple of days) to gently rub off the skins and pull off the tops. It should all come off really easily. Once you've done this, slice off the very top, just a thin slice (it looks kinda weird and almost hairy). then chop into cubes.

- roast pumpkin in a shallow tray covered in baking paper with some olive oil, thyme pepper salt and a drizzle of honey. Take out when they they are cooked and browned, doesn't matter if some pieces are not too brown :) It takes around 40 minutes.

(please note this photo was taken when in the process of assembling salad, with cooled pumpkin)

- sauté the onions on a very low heat in some olive oil, keep cooking without browning for at least 20 minutes till really soft and sweet. about 5 minutes before you switch it off add a teaspoon of sugar (i use raw/demarera sugar) and stir in. make sure it's completely dissolved when you switch it off. then add a small splash of balsamic and stir in - mmm sweet onions and balsamic = love :)
- Dry toast the pine-nuts in fry-pan till golden brown
- ** slice and fry the haloumi in the fry-pan in a bit of olive oil after you do the pine-nuts, cool on paper towel (if you're using other cheese just skip this step and crumble the cheese instead hehe)
- Make sure the above ingredients are completely cooled before the next steps!!!
- once you've done these things it's a matter of assembling the salad.
- Use a clear bowl if possible as the layered colours of the salad is lovely. I made this for a day on a boat so unfortunately don't have a pic of the layers as such...
- make a dressing with olive oil, balsamic, salt pepper and maybe a teaspoon of seeded mustard (please note I don't always make a dressing as sometimes the flavour of the ingredients is enough)
- if you're serving immediately: toss the leaves in a small amount of olive oil, pepper and salt - if you're making it to serve in a bit you can skip this bit.
- place leaves in bowl, top with cooled pumpkin, then with caramelised onions, then beetroot, then crumbled (or fried) cheese, finishing with the pine-nuts.
- just before serving add dressing (if using, i didn't this time) :)

*** Herbes de provence is a french mix of herbs that's mainly rosemary, savory, thyme and basil from what I can work out. When in Malta I use it (as Anthony, my sister's hubby to be is french and always brings us some) however i usually use thyme and/or rosemary.

Haloumi is one of the best cheeses on this planet. It's awesome to BBQ, to add cooked to salads, and is the best possible bacon substitute in a vegetarian fry up brekky!  


  1. This looks simply amazing lara - and i'm not a fan of beetroot! love you! sarah xxx

  2. hello was an amazing salad....yummie.....i have been going on and on about i can do my own...ha naraw ;):)

    take care

  3. Thanks Yvette! it's pretty easy as long as you have the time to chop up the pumpkin - that\s the most annoying bit :D

  4. great recipe and description. I am going to cook this Friday at a family dinner. Thank you!

  5. BABY.. I am going to try this >> I am omiting the pumpkin and swapping it for Sweet Potato though :)

    <3 Lolly

    1. yay! :) I've made it with sweet potato, was great too! :D possibly even better cos Sweet potato's sweeter than butternut :D

  6. I just made this tonight and am so impressed with it! so simple and fresh!