Roasted beetroot & lentil salad

Roasted beetroot & lentil salad

OK, I’ll admit it, this recipe is pretty much directly lifted from a delicious lunch I had sitting in the sun at my favourite London plant-lover’s haunt, The Chelsea Physic Garden. So sticky-sweet and satisfying, you won’t even notice how virtuously healthy it is.

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Serves: 4

1kg small 'Detroit Dark Red' and 'Burpees Golden' beetroots, peeled

1 red onion

1 tbsp honey

2tbsp unfiltered olive oil

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

250g precooked beluga lentils

1 handful beet leaves, finely shredded

1 orange - juice and rind

100ml crème fraîche

a few sprigs of mint and dill

- salt & pepper

  1. Cut the beetroot and onion into quarters. Arrange in a roasting tin and drizzle over the honey, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Do not toss them together as the red beets will stain the yellow ones. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Raost the beetroot in a preheated 200°C / gas mark 6 oven for 45 minutes until tender.
  3. Spoon the lentils onto a plate and arrange the beet leaves around them. Top with the roasted beetroot, drizzle with the orange juice and scatter over the herbs and orange rind.
  4. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and extra oil and vinegar. This salad is a match made in heaven with goats’ cheese or grilled mackerel.

Put off by beetroot’s earthy, soil-like flavour?
Well, take it from an ex-beetaphobe like me, beets and muddy flavour need not go hand in hand. The roots derive their dusty flavour from a substance called geosmin, which is the self-same chemical released into the air by soil after a rainstorm. To me, it’s an instant flashback to being forced to play rugby at school in Singapore, trudging through mud in 35°C (95°F) heat. There are drawbacks to being the biggest kid in school. Fortunately, the amount of geosmin that beetroot create is genetically determined, and scientists at Washington State University have been able to rank varieties along a sort of Richter scale of earthiness. With some containing three times more geosmin than others, you can pick a variety to suit your personal taste. Six times more geosmin is concentrated in the skins. Simply peeling beetroot will make them taste less earthy.

Over the last few years ethnobotanist James Wong’s scientific and labour-saving approach to edible gardening has garnered critical acclaim, landing him his own BBC series Grow Your Own Drugs and publishing contracts for several books. Here we showcase James’ flair for combining the unusual with three of our favourite recipes with a difference from the book...

RHS Grow For Flavour by James Wong is published by Mitchell Beazley and is available, for £20, from

Photographs: Jason Ingram
Recipes Type: Starters

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