I fell upon this delicious, simple dish like a starving wolf: I was seized by a deep craving for its metallic greenness, and the earth-blood flavour of its red stalks.
My friends Mike and Michele - whose recipe this is - watched with alarm as I devoured half the bowl, wolfishly licking my chops as I did so.
My pee was a delicate pink all the next day. (One of the other friends at the table, a doctor who is a general practitioner in Johannesburg, told me that she is often faced with patients complaining about blood in their urine. Her first question to them is, 'Have you eaten beetroot recently?').
I cannot think of a vegetable dish I've enjoyed more in the last few years. When I turned 43, about, erm, 1 year ago, I developed a great taste for deep-green leaves, steamed, stir-fried or microwaved and dressed with fruity olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper (or sometimes soy sauce or vinegar).
So profound is my craving for these veg that I would rather eat a tangle of dark greens in a nice dressing than munch on a cold KitKat or a packet of Salt 'n Vinegar crisps. I take this as a sign that my appetite centre has finally reached adulthood.
I've never cooked beetroot greens because I've never seen them sold fresh and crisp at any supermarket. If I do see fresh beetroot in a bundle, the greens have either been torn away and discarded, or are as wilted and sad as a lost sock.
My friends Mike and Michele Karamanof (who are featured, this week, in my South African Food Fundis series; click here for more about them) found these organic beetroot greens at the Jozi Food Market.
I can't give you exact quantities here: taste, and decide.
Fresh Beetroot Greens with Olive Oil Dressing
2 bunches fresh beetroot leaves
water to cover
1 t (5 ml) salt
1 clove garlic, crushed
balsamic vinegar (or freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste)
flaky salt and freshly pepper
Wash the leaves well in cold water to remove any grit, and drain in a colander. If you like, you can chop the stalks into 2-cm lengths. Or leave them whole. Half fill a big pot with water, add the salt, and bring to a rapid boil. Add the beetroot leaves, in batches (to avoid the water going off the boil) and cook until the stems are very tender. Drain in a colander. Tip the hot leaves into a big salad bowl and dress with a generous splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice, or both, to taste). Season well with salt and pepper.
You can also microwave the leaves. This isn't heresy, and your internal organs will not boil. Click here to read more about microwaving veggies.
If you want slightly crunchier leaves, add the chopped stalks to the boiling salted water first, cook until just tender (poke them with the tip of a sharp knife; they are ready when they offer no resistance), and then add the leaves. Cook until the leaves are just wilted.
Tip into a big, deep salad bowl and serve warm or at room temperature.
Lovely mixed with cooked, sliced beetroot.
Serves 8 as a side dish.