People often ask me where I get my inspiration to constantly come up with new recipes. Obviously a trip to the market really gets the creative juices flowing, but it may surprise you to learn about the one place I go when I really need my fire lit. 

Online restaurant menus. 

I first discovered this inspirational gold mine many a few years ago when I was planning our honeymoon to California. As the exceptionally enthusiastic eater that I am, I pretty much decided where we were going based on our restaurant reservations. It was while perusing some café’s daily specials online that it hit me: even if I wasn’t planning on eating at that particular place, the list of ingredients of each and every luscious dish was right there in front of me! Like, for free. It’s true I had no idea how they made the vegan crème anglaise, or how they dressed the salad just so, but the basic elements were all present and I could almost taste the exciting flavour combinations just by reading the descriptions. When you gain a little more confidence in the kitchen, all you need is a list of ingredients and then you’re off to the races. Ka-bam!

This recipe actually came to me the other day upon randomly reading a menu from a restaurant called Tria, in Philadelphia. One of their appetizers was a simple dish of rosemary and fennel marinated green olives. Yum, I thought. What an interesting combination of flavours! And that was all I needed to get my brain tumbling into somersaults to land upon open-faced rye sandwiches with sweet roasted beets, salty goat cheese and briny caper berries. I decided that I would marinate caper berries in the rosemary and fennel seeds, simply because I had those on hand, and I wanted lunch, pronto. So tasty, so simple, and it all came from that one little menu item that got me to thinkin’.

Feeling The Detox Beet
If you are in detox mode after the holidays, beets are your buddy! Here’s why: the special pigments in beets, called betalins, have repeatedly been shown to support activity in the body’s Phase 2 detoxification process. Phase 2 is the process in which our cells hook up unwanted toxic substances with small nutrient groups. This “hook up” process neutralizes the toxins and makes them water-soluble so that we can just pee them out. So cool!

Another reason beets are so wonderful when you are trying to cleanse your body, is because of the fiber they contain. Beets are loaded with fiber, the insoluble kind, which passes through the digestive tract virtually intact. On its journey through the intestines insoluble fiber acts like a broom, sweeping the colon free of debris and toxins that are often deposited along the intestinal walls. Insoluble fiber also provides resistance for the bowels, giving something for the muscles to push against. This wave-like motion is called peristalsis, and this is what effectively pushes food waste and toxins through the intestines. A healthy, toned colon is able to carry out these muscle contractions in the most effective manner, which is essential for ridding the body of unwanted toxins.

If you are in search of some inspiration, let this simple yet elegant lunch be your guide. Served alongside some gorgeous greens, it’s a complete meal to share with someone special. Although the ingredient list calls for only 2 beets, I’ll tell you that if I am going to the trouble of roasting beets, I usually prepare a kilo at a time. That way I save energy, and I have cooked beets for the week to add to all manner of meals – this makes life much easier! Just peel all of the beets after roasting and keep them in a sealed container in the fridge for five or six days.
The marinated capers will last long after the sandwiches are done too, and even make a nice gift. They are delicious in whole grain and vegetable dishes, on pasta, in salads, and with eggs. They are briny and bursting with flavour.

If you are not into the idea of sandwiches, leave the bread out of the equation and make this into a salad. Sprinkle the goat cheese on top and use the marinating oil from the capers, and a squeeze of lemon juice as the dressing.

Beet Tartine with Marinated Caper Berries
Serves 2
2 medium-sized beets
4 slices whole-grain rye bread (check the ingredient list for suspicious ingredients)
soft goat cheese / chèvre (optional)
handful marinated caper berries
fresh rosemary
sea salt + cracked black pepper

1. With the skin still on, wrap beets individually in foil and roast in a 400°F / 200°C oven for at least one hour, until you can easily pierce the beet with a sharp knife. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Unwrap and slide skins off. Slice into desired shapes.
2. While the oven is hot, spread goats cheese on the slices of rye bread and place under the broiler until golden, about 5 minutes.
3. On each piece of toast place the sliced beets, caper berries, a few rosemary leaves, lots of pepper and a pinch of salt. Finish the dish with a drizzle of the marinating oil from the capers. Eat and enjoy.

Rosemary-Fennel Marinated Caper Berries
1 jar capers or caper berries, drained (I used the latter)
3 springs fresh rosemary, or 1 Tbsp. dried
1 Tbsp. fennel seeds
a few glugs cold-pressed olive oil

1. Drain capers and place in a jar or small bowl. Toss with all other ingredients and let sit at room temperature for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Although it may seem a little intimidating at first, next time you’re at a restaurant, or just trawling the web for menus like me, find that little spark that speaks to your belly. Look for interesting combinations of foods, flavours and textures. Take notes, take a picture. Even if you don’t know how the dish looks or what it tastes like, you can fill in the blanks with your creative culinary mind. This is what makes cooking a real adventure, and a tasty one at that.

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