Autumn beets & squash salad

by Rosie Birkett

A celebration of the glorious bounties of autumn

This recipe has a few different stages to it, but you can prepare almost everything while the beetroots are roasting, so read the recipe through first and then get going.

It’s certainly worth giving the elderberry vinegar a go, but if you don’t have time just use a fruity red wine vinegar mixed with 1 tsp caster sugar and the berries. Elderberries grow wild from summer to autumn and it’s worth stockpiling them in your freezer to add to vinegars and sauces. They work especially well cooked into gravy! 


100g puy lentils, rinsed
4 large beetroots, skin on and cleaned—I like to use a mix of purple, golden and candy stripe
4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
Extra virgin rapeseed oil
½ large butternut or kabocha squash, peeled, seeds removed and sliced into wedges
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 fresh bay leaf
100g purple, red or mixed kale
2 sprigs of tarragon, leaves picked
2 sprigs of flat leaf parsley, leaves picked
50g fresh goat’s cheese, such as palais frais, torn into chunks 
1 handful of blackberries
1 clove of garlic, finely grated
30g fresh or frozen elderberries (optional)

For the elderberry vinegar:
150g red wine vinegar
150ml water
80g golden caster sugar
1 fresh bay leaf
1 tsp salt
150g ripe elderberries, picked from their umbels with a fork


First make the elderberry vinegar. I like to do this a week in advance and keep it in the fridge to infuse, but it also works if you make it just a couple of hours ahead.

Combine the red wine vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and bay in a non-reactive pan and bring to a gentle boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn down to a simmer and add the elderberries, pressing about half of them with the back of a wooden spoon to burst them, and stirring, cooking for 3-4 mins. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the pips and skins and reserving any of the whole elderberries to add back in. Pour into a small pan and heat gently. Add in the blackberries, grated garlic and extra elderberries and simmer for 3 mins, stirring. Remove from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Soak the rinsed lentils in cold water for 30 mins. Meanwhile toss three of the beetroots in some rapeseed oil with salt, pepper and half the thyme leaves. Wrap each beet individually in tin foil, leaving a little space for air to circulate, then place in a roasting tray. Roast for 1 hour, or until tender when you poke a skewer into them. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Use some kitchen towel to remove the skins—they should peel away easily—then slice into wedges.

In another roasting tray, toss the butternut squash with some salt, pepper, the remaining thyme and some more rapeseed oil. After the beetroots have roasted for 20 mins, put the squash into the oven for 30 mins, then scatter with the pumpkin seeds and pop back in the oven for 10 mins more, during which time the seeds will puff up and go crispy. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Drain the lentils then place in a pan with double the volume of water, a bay leaf and a large pinch of salt. Cook for about 30 mins, until tender. Drain, rinse and toss with a little rapeseed oil and 1 tbsp elderberry vinegar.

Peel the remaining beetroot and slice very finely into ice cold water. Put the kale into a bowl, pour over ½ tbsp rapeseed oil, then season. Massage the oil into the kale until the leaves darken and become more floppy.

Now assemble your salad. Lay some raw and roasted beetroot on the plates along with the squash and crispy pumpkin seeds. Toss the kale with the lentils, herbs and some more of the vinegar and top with the beets and squash. Divide the goat’s cheese between the plates and dress with the blackberries, pumpkin seeds and a little vinegar.

Recipe: Rosie Birkett