Olia's Beetroot Leaf Rolls
Beetroot leaf rolls with buckwheat and mushrooms by Olia Hercules.
In the Carpathian highlands, in summertime, Hutsul women often use beetroot leaves to make a variation of holubtsi (‘little doves’), the iconic Ukrainian dish of cabbage rolls. The beet leaves are left in the sun to wilt slightly, to make rolling them a little easier, but I find that when you buy beetroot with leaves on, the leaves are often pretty limp already, so all they need is a quick wash. You could also include some chopped cooked chestnuts to the filling, if you like – they add a wonderful texture and flavour.
Cook the buckwheat in a saucepan of salted boiling water for about 10 minutes, or until cooked through but not falling apart. Drain well and set aside in a bowl.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the mushrooms and cook until they brown a little. Scoop them out into the bowl of buckwheat. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the diced onion to the pan, along with a pinch of salt. Cook until it softens and starts to turn golden, then add the carrot and cook for about 2 minutes, letting it colour a little. Tip the contents of the frying pan into the bowl, mix well and season with salt and pepper, then leave the filling to cool slightly.
Lay a beetroot leaf on your benchtop and put 1 heaped teaspoon of the filling close to the stalk end, then flip the bottom of the leaf up and over the filling. Fold in the sides and roll up as tightly as possible, leaving the finished roll on the benchtop, seam side down. Repeat with the rest of the beetroot leaves and filling.
Choose a saucepan or cast-iron casserole with a lid that will hold the beetroot leaf rolls snugly in a single layer. Add the rest of the oil and place over a medium heat, then add the sliced onion and cook until soft and mellow. Finely chop the beetroot stalks, add to the pan and cook, stirring, for another minute or so. If you are using fresh tomatoes, cut them in half and grate them on the coarse side of a box grater, discarding the skins. Add the tomatoes to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes or until they have broken down into a sauce, then whisk in the crème fraîche and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to low and carefully add the rolls, seam side down, then cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Serve with plenty of crusty bread to mop up the juices.