I don't often feel like plunging my face into a bowl of food and inhaling it like a starving piglet, but when I tasted the glorious scarletness of this beetroot dip for the first time, the taste pathways in my brain went beserk. There were sighs, there were low moans of pleasure, and there were showers of cortical sparks.
I don't know why my tastebuds (and my brain) were so excited and astonished by this addictive combination of earthy blood-red baby beetroot, warming ground cumin, crème fraîche and garlic, but what I can say is that this is the best dip I've tasted in many years, and that I intend to eat it every day - spread on toast, or over a baked potato, dobbled over a soup, or spooned directly from the bowl - until my body says it's had enough, and it's time to turn to horseradish or bitter chocolate or orange peel, or whatever my brain's flavour-du-jour is.
I first tasted this dip in Hout Bay, Cape Town, last week, when my sister Sophie casually whipped it up as a starter to be served before a delicious Cape-Malay style chicken curry made in advance by her nanny/au pair.
Sophie gave me the basic ingredients, although she couldn't, off-hand, remember the quantities.
So here is my version. If you don't feel like buying and baking fresh beetroot, use pre-prepared cooked fresh beetroot chunks, available in South Africa from Woolworths. But please, don't use pickled or canned beetroot, which tends to be so vinegary. This dish is best with freshly ground, toasted cumin seeds, but you can use pre-powdered cumin if it is very fresh.
Beetroot, Cumin and Garlic Dip
4 small fresh beetroot [or a pack of Woolworths beetroots chunks]
1 t (5 ml) cumin seeds
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and finely crushed
4 T (60 ml) crème fraîche, or sour cream or Greek yoghurt, or a combination
2 T (30 ml) olive oil
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200 C. Trim the leafy tops off the beetroot (but don't peel, or cut into, the bulbs), wrap tightly into a parcel of tin foil (or put in a lidded ceramic dish) place in the oven for an hour, or until completely tender when pierced with the point of a sharp knife. Remove the parcel from the oven and allow to cool for half an hour. In the meantime, put the cumin seeds in a frying pan and set over a medium-high heat. Toss the cumin seeds until they are just warmed through and toasty, and then grind them to a fine powder in a mortar or coffee grinder.
Rub the skin off the beetroot with your fingers, cut off the tops and tails, chop roughly and place in a liquidizer or blender. Add the toasted cumin powder, the garlic, the crème fraîche (or yoghurt) and the olive oil and process to a fine puree (or a chunky one, depending on your preference). Taste the mixture: if it seems bland, add a tiny squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Season well with salt and pepper.
Tip the mixture into a bowl and top with a shower of cumin, a lick of olive oil and perhaps a little yoghurt.
Serves 6, as a snack