Beetrooty Rislaf

Rooty rislaf with grilled haloumi – so good it cracked the plate!

I’ve eaten a lot lately at Mamuśka, the Polish canteen within London’s least lovely shopping centre which, contrary to long-held plans, is no longer to be demolished, but is actually going to be ‘refurbished and get a new tower’, according to the Standard. I was surprised to learn. But then, I thought they were in the process of replacing the dismal old leisure centre in the graveyard across the road with a new one. I’m not wrong, except that it turns out to be at the bottom of a 37 storey residential tower called, presumptuously, One The Elephant.

The reprieve of the shopping centre is good news for Mamuśka, obviously, not only because they can keep their premises, on the upper level by the escalator, but also because the area is about to turn into a huge building site with hundreds of big hungry boys working on it, a sizeable proportion of whom are bound to be Polish.

Poles are famously big on beetroot and Mamuśka serves it hot & shredded, mixed with a touch of cream, for a quid. So, should you go there to eat pierogis (for instance) don’t miss the buraczki na ciepło. I’m still waiting to try Mama’s borscht and see how it compares to my Soup Kitchen borscht of five years ago. I had high hopes after reading a review that said Mamuśka’s version was vegetarian (i.e.: not made with beef stock), but a cup of their beetroot both, barzcz, brought me down to earth with a bump. It’s not as if it’s not good, that’s the problem: it’s too delicious. It is so lip-smackingly rich because it’s made with pork stock. “It used to be vegetarian, but we’ve improved the recipe,” the lovely lady behind the counter told me with a smile, like it was the punchline to a Polish joke.

Buraczki with a full portion of Mama’s pierogis

There was a time, before Polish people came to do most of the work around here, when fresh beets were hard to come by. Beetroot was boiled and then usually peeled and pickled in vinegar. A market stall in East Street had steaming mounds of beetroot boiled by a man in Iliffe Yard, around the corner.  Even a few years ago, at the time of the Soup Kitchen, we were obliged to order our fresh roots in advance from Cruson, the greengrocer in Camberwell Church St, and buy ’em by the ‘net’. Not any more!

I got a couple of bunches of beets and my Assistant peeled them when she visited on Thursday. I roasted them off that evening and kept them in the ‘fridge. She also chopped a mirepoix of finely-diced onion, carrot & celery, which I sweated off also and put in the ‘fridge until I was ready to use it a couple of days later.

Pearl barley gives a chewier texture.

I like to make rissotti using roasted beetroot, or butternut squash, but this time I wanted something a bit different. At Findhorn, when I worked in the Park kitchen during Experience Week, we made a beetroot ‘risotto‘ using their colossal roots and short grain brown rice, because that’s all there was, slowly adding stock while stirring continuously to break down the starch. I spent the best part of an hour stirring stock into that rice, but had to leave before the beetroot was added. Apparently, I was told the next day, it was a great success.

I also wanted to incorporate pearl barley, because I like its chewy texture and I think it’s appropriate, seasonally. So, in a pan, I reheated the pre-cooked mirepoix with a few cloves of roasted garlic (which I keep in a jar, covered with oil) and made up a litre of vegetable bouillon. I put a couple of tablespoons each of short grain brown rice and pearl barley grains in with the sweated veg, mix and began to slowly add the bouillon, stirring all the while.

It went on for some time, stirring, adding more stock, occasionally covering the pot. The pearl barley takes longer to cook than the rice and had to stand for a while, to infuse. Next time, I’ll soak it for a good few hours first. I cubed the roasted beetroot, adding it in the final five minutes of cooking.

grilling haloumi

The difference between a risotto and a pilaf is primarily the cooking method – a risotto must be stirred, making its texture sloppy, but otherwise it’s down to provenance, Italian or Turkish? I accompanied my beetrooty rice with grilled haloumi, bought from Oli’s, the Turkish supermarket, so it’s more pilaf but I stirred in the stock slowly, so it’s a little bit risotto, although the pearl barley absorbed all the liquid, so its texture was firm. I’ll  call it rislaf, which even sounds a bit Polish. Smacznego!

P.S.: Some time later, I found this Polish vegan cookery blog!

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