CARAMELISED BEETROOT, RED ONION AND PECAN TART WITH A QUINOA-ALMOND CRUST
Totally smashed it, if I do say so myself… a caramelised beetroot, red onion and pecan pie with a quinoa-almond crust — a vision in pinks and purples, sweet, salty, hearty and totally worthy of the Christmas table, and vegan to boot!
This year, as part of my Christmas feast round-up (with an Ayurvedic twist of course) I was up for the challenge of a vegan main dish. A vegetarian dish is a doodle in comparison when it comes to creating something worthy of owning centre-stage. After all, you have all manner of cheese to play with and the baking properties of eggs mean you can make anything hold together — both also create wonderful whipped textures and add protein and umami to a dish, which you have to replicate in other ways when you go vegan. I was drawn to making a tart, namely because they’re so pretty, and also because how many times a year do you actually go to the effort of making one? If not for Christmas day, then when?
One more question: did I also mention that this is gluten-free? Another challenge if ever there was one, especially as I prefer using whole food ingredients rather than the shop-bought gluten-free mixes. You might imagine these are better for you, but they really only are if you have a gluten-intolerance...
So a gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free tart crust got me thinking about the quinoa bread I created years ago. I soaked and lightly blended some quinoa, flavoured it simply with a vegetable stock cube and black pepper, a little jaggery to add some sweetness and some ground almonds to bulk and bind it. It worked a dream — 20 minutes in the oven while I prepped the filling. The filling was simple again: roasted beetroot chunks and red onion in red wine vinegar with cumin, anise and jaggery for a sweet, sour and fragrant flavour. But how do you bring this all together in a tart? No goat’s cheese to add a creamy element, no eggs to create a rich custard, and I already had enough nuttiness thanks to the ground almonds in the crust and the toasted pecans that would later adorn the top — a big problem with vegan dishes is overdoing it on the nuts. I’m not a fan of unfermented tofu (preferring fermented soy products such as tempeh, tamari and miso), which is the oft-used egg and cheese substitute, and I didn’t want to go down the xanthan gum route, so I brought out chickpea flour, mixed it with water to make a batter, blended it with some of the cooked beetroot and a bit more cumin to flavour it and voila: a pink nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free custard. You can find all the ingredients for this tart in a good supermarket near you, except maybe the jaggery, so just sub in some maple syrup instead.
Thanks for sticking with me on this one and hearing through my entire thought process. There’s a lot going on but as one of my friends said when she tested it at home for me, it was surprisingly easy — and she’s not one to go out of her way to create a tart from scratch, let alone one without the magic powers of gluten and egg. In fact the only reason not to like this dreamy dish is if you don’t like beetroot — and I know there are quite a few of you guys out there somewhere!
For the caramelised beetroot
700g beetroot cut into 1.5-inch chunks
1 large red onion, cut into wedges and in half again
4.5 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp ghee (or coconut oil for a vegan option)
3 tbsp jaggery (or a touch less maple syrup)
5 star anise
3/4 tsp ground cumin
50g pecan halves, broken into quarters
⅛ tsp of salt
¼ tsp black pepper
For the beetroot custard
3/4 cup of chickpea (gram) flour
3/4 cup of water
1 tsp ground cumin
several chunks of the cooked beetroot from above plus the leftover cooking juices
Pinch of salt and pepper
For the quinoa-almond crust
1 cup quinoa (170g) - soaked overnight in double the amount of water, rinsed and drained*
1 vegetable stock cube
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp black pepper
½ tbs jaggery (or a touch less maple syrup)
4 tbsp ground almonds, plus extra if needed - can also use ground sunflower seeds
To make the caramelised beetroot:
1. Pre-heat oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
2. In a large baking dish place the chopped beetroot and onions. Add the red wine vinegar, ghee, jaggery, star anise and cumin and season with the salt and pepper.
3. Cover tightly with a lid (or foil) and bake in the oven for 10 minutes to melt the ghee, then toss everything together.
4. Return to the oven and bake for another 50 minutes. Remove the star anise and set aside.
Meanwhile make the crust:
5. Roughly line a 9-inch tart dish with parchment/baking paper, allowing for excess to help you remove the tart after cooking.
6. Rinse the soaked quinoa and drain well over a bowl for 10 minutes.
7. Place the quinoa in a deep bowl or cup with the olive oil, baking powder, jaggery and black pepper, and crumble in the stock cube. Using an immersion/stick blender, slowly blend the mixture. At first it will seem as if it is too dry but slowly it will start to break down and emulsify. Keep some texture to the quinoa.
8. Mix in the ground almonds by hand to make a thick mixture that you can easily stand a spoon in. Use a spoon to test the consistency — smooth it up the sides of the bowl and see if it holds — otherwise add another tablespoon of ground almonds.
9. Place the quinoa mix into the centre of the tart dish and using the back of a spoon or spatula work the mixture out and up the sides to create a crust, keeping the edges level with the dish so that they don’t get burnt during baking. Use damp fingers to help mould and create a smoother finish.
10. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until golden.
Meanwhile make the beetroot custard:
11. Blend approximately 4 pieces of the baked beetroot with the chickpea flour, water, cumin, salt and pepper until smooth.
Assemble the pie:
12. Place half the beetroot into the crust, pour over the batter and use the spatula to evenly spread it out. Arrange the rest of the beetroot on top and return to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes.
13. Sprinkle over the pecans, arrange the star anise on top and nestle them in slightly — bake for another 5 minutes until the pecans are just toasted.
14. Serve hot, warm or room temperature with freshly steamed greens or as the star dish to your Christmas feast.
*East by West tip: If you don’t have time to soak the beetroot overnight/8 hours then pour over freshly boiled water and leave to soak for a few hours before continuing.