People know I like to cook with foods that are off the beaten path. A couple weeks ago my coworker pulled a bunch of anise hyssop out of his garden and brought it into work. “Can you use this Al?”. I told him it depended on what it was.
He came back with a couple branches of the hyssop and I played with it throughout the day. I had heard of hyssop, but never tried it. If anything has the word anise, fennel or licorice in it’s name, I know I’m probably going to like it though.
I used it as an herb at first, mixing it with vegetables and in marinades. The flavor was great raw, it was sweet and licorice-y. Eventually I found out that like the yarrow, hyssop will lose it’s flavor almost completely if it’s heated too much, so from there I started using it raw; It was pretty straightforward after that.
The first thing I thought of was using it in some sort of salad where sweet, licorice flavors would be nice. It gave me an excuse to recreate a beet salad I had made a few months ago too. There’s a bit of a story behind it; I’ll tell you about it.
I was on cloud nine at the beginning of this year after my boss looked at some of my work and told me I would be photographing his upcoming cookbook. I had no experience taking professional grade pictures (still don’t!), but I tried hard, and gave it my best shot.
Previously I was shooting pictures for this website with an Iphone on a plastic mini-tripod. For the book I upgraded to a canon point and shoot. I was given a monster list of dishes, and the freedom to pretty much shoot whatever I wanted, when I wanted, which was nice. I would come in early around 8 am, and then work until close at about midnight. The days started to get long, and working so hard was making me physically ill and run down. I didn’t care though.
Eventually the editors told us my work was not up to par, and they paired me with a professional food photographer, then another one. The book shoots are slow, and keep plodding along, but we’re making progress.
But those days where I shot dishes all by myself are great memories now: the morning light, my coffee, point and shoot camera, trying to reflect light with a piece of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil. I did the best I could to capture the heart of the food in my own way. I still have all the photos, and it’s likely no one will ever see them. No one but you and me that is.
One of the first things I worked on was a salad with beets, fennel, and onions, it was delicious. When I tasted the anise hyssop and thought what kind of salad it should go on, I thought it would be fun to re-create the dish with beets and fennel. It’s great with or without the garnishes I added in the new version. Enjoy.
Roasted Beet Salad With Fennel And Anise Hyssop
- Large handful of whole small, anise hyssop leaves and flowers (larger leaves should be torn)
- Kosher salt and pepper
- Virgin sunflower oil to taste
- 1 lb heirloom beets such as red, white, gold, or chioggia varieties
- 2 oz aged goat cheese or blue cheese sliced
- 1 bulb of fennel shaved thin on a mandoline, avoiding the core
- 1 small red onion
- 1/4 tsp sugar
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1/4 apple cider vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Season the beets lightly with some oil, salt and pepper. Wrap the beets and thyme sprigs in aluminum foil then place on a cookie sheet with a roasting rack and roast for 45 minutes, or until the beets are tender when pierced with a paring knife. When the beets are cooked, remove them and cool.
- When the beets are cool, peel them, then slice 1/4 in thick. To make perfect circles like in the pictures, cut out circles of beet using the rim of a glass or a ring mold.
- To shave the fennel, remove the top green stalk and then cut the bulb in half vertically. Using a mandoline, shave the fennel about 1/16 of an inch thick, avoiding the core.
- Remove the root and top from the red onion, then peel and cut in half vertically. Julienne the red onion as thin as possible. (you will only need 1/4 of the entire onion for this recipe, save the rest of the onion for another purpose.) Season the thinly sliced onion lightly with the salt, pepper, sugar, vinegar, and 1 tsp of the sunflower oil. Allow the onion to sit for 4-5 minutes to macerate and remove the "raw" flavor, then combine with the sliced fennel and reserve. (you can do this a day ahead of time if you like.)
- To serve the salad, arrange a few beet slices on each of four salad plates or arrange them all on a platter family style. Season the sliced beets with salt and pepper, and sunflower oil to taste. Top the beets with the shaved fennel and onion, garnish with the cheese, then scatter the anise hyssop leaves and flowers over the whole thing.