Salad of Asparagus with Artichokes, Purslane, Pomegranate and Beetroot

With White Balsamic Dressing

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This is an early summer salad that makes a great lunch main course after a starter of smoked salmon and rye toast. If you’re making this at the start of summer, then try it with sea kale – a delicious vegetable from coastal regions, particularly in Scotland.

White balsamic vinegar is a relatively new food product; it isn’t exactly white or clear in colour, but it is very pale. With much less of a caramel flavour than regular balsamic, it’s a good vinegar to have in the pantry.

I have used purslane and nasturtium leaves in my salads, which I know aren’t going to be available everywhere – if necessary just substitute some good leaves that taste great and look even better. I also use striped beetroot, but regular red beets will be just as tasty.

Ingredients

  • 300 g medium-sized striped beetroot
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 4 large artichokes
  • 1 lemon, sliced into 1 cm rounds
  • 1 large pomegranate
  • 400 g asparagus spears
  • 100 g purslane
  • small handful of nasturtium leaves
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Method

Place the beetroot in a pot with the cider vinegar and the teaspoon of salt. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, cover and cook for 30–40 minutes. They’re ready when you can insert a thin sharp knife into their centres. Leave to cool in the liquid, then remove and peel by rubbing the skin off with your fingers, or use a peeler or sharp knife if they’re stubborn. (It’s advisable to wear gloves for this, as otherwise the beetroot will stain your hands.) Slice really thinly with a mandolin grater or sharp knife and mix with the white balsamic vinegar.

Hold the artichokes horizontally by their stem and slice down through the leaves leaving about 3 cm of the head. Cut off the stem and trim away the outer leaves with a sharp paring knife. Then you need to scrape the feathery centre, or choke, out with a teaspoon – just dig it in and scoop it out – revealing the inner heart or ‘fond’. Rinse well under cold running water and place in a pot with 1 litre of cold water and the sliced lemon. The artichokes discolour quickly, so do all this as you prepare each one. Once they’re all done, bring to the boil, then cook at a rapid simmer until you can insert a knife into the thickest part of the heart. Drain, run cold water over them for a minute, then leave to cool and slice into pieces 1 cm thick.

Run a sharp knife around the outside off the pomegranate just cutting the skin, then twisting it very hard to break it in half. This avoids cutting into the sour body and fibres, which will taint the seeds. Turn the halves inside out by pushing hard with your thumb, then break the seeds away from the body. Do this over a bowl as the juice will dribble out and you don’t want to stain your clothes. Once all the seeds and juice are removed, make sure no pith is attached, and put to one side.

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add the asparagus. Boil for 1–2 minutes depending on size, drain and refresh in iced water, then drain again.

To Serve

Arrange some asparagus on a plate and place the artichoke slices on top. Scatter over the purslane and then sit the beetroot on that. Scatter over the pomegranate seeds and their juice, place the nasturtium leaves on top, then drizzle with the vinegar from the beetroot and the olive oil.