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the bite: Hetty McKinnon | Neighborhood

You might recall Hetty McKinnon of community food biz Arthur Street Kitchen, the veggie aficionado who continues to expand our salad horizons with her hearty, full-flavored creations. Well, Hetty just released her latest cookbook, Neighborhood, in the US! So, we’re happy to welcome her back to The Bite. Since publishing her best-selling first cookbook, Community, Hetty has relocated from Australia to Brooklyn, which has given her a whole new slew of culinary influences to draw upon. Here she shares the roasted golden beet and lentil recipe from her new tome, tells us how her approach to salads has changed since moving to America, and gives us glimpse into her fridge and palate.

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NAME: Hetty McKinnon 

PROFESSION: Cookbook author + food writer 

PHILOSOPHY ON FOOD? Big, bold and plant-based. Bring vegetables to the center of the plate, injecting them with lots of flavor and creativity.  

WHAT INSPIRED YOUR NEW COOKBOOK, NEIGHBORHOOD? Neighborhood is an evolution for me as a cook but also encapsulates how I live and eat right now. The book is about embracing the influences all around us — the histories, memories, rituals and traditions — and using this as inspiration in the kitchen.

YOU WOULD BE LOST IN THE KITCHEN WITHOUT… Really good olive oil. This is the ingredient I reach for constantly and honestly, without it, I feel like I can’t cook!

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HOW HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED SINCE PUBLISHING COMMUNITY? Over the years I have received countless emails and messages from readers who have talked about their personal experience of cooking from Community — how the book has brought their family together to cook, how the recipes have given them a new perspective on vegetables, how people living on farms who grow their own vegetables have used the recipes to be more creative in the kitchen. It is very humbling to see the far-reaching results of sharing food and recipes. The small stories I hear from readers everyday really inspire me to keep creating in the kitchen.

WHAT’S ALWAYS IN YOUR FRIDGE? New York Shuk’s “Signature Harissa” because it is the ultimate flavor enhancer! Their harissa is not about the heat but more about the flavor. I add it to salads, soups, sandwiches, even my savory porridge!

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A LITTLE ABOUT THE RECIPE YOU’RE SHARING WITH US?  This recipe is like my ode to summer in New York City. It is from the “Dear America” chapter of Neighborhood and really captures the beauty of Greenmarket produce. Golden beets (which are very hard to find in Australia) are so earthy, and I’ve highlighted them with an aromatic array of soft herbs. This salad is really like sunshine on a plate!

AN UNEXPECTEDLY YUMMY SALAD INGREDIENT? Okra! Some people don’t like the sliminess of okra, but if you add a decent amount of lemon, it takes away some of that slime! I have a recipe for lemon-tomato okra served with a lentil and leek rice in Neighborhood, and it is so full of flavor and heartiness. I love surprising people with my salads.

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HOW HAS BEING IN AMERICA INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU MAKE SALADS? The pervasiveness of Mexican ingredients, Latin American flavors, Italo-American culture, and the diverse produce has given me a lot of inspiration in the kitchen. For example, simple ingredients like collard greens don’t exist in Australia, so it’s been fun to play with this as a salad ingredient.

MOST IMPORTANT FLAVOR-BUILDING INGREDIENT OR COMBO? I would have to say salt! I have to be honest, forgetting to season vegetables is still the biggest mistake I taste in plant-based cooking. Salt brings out the natural flavors of vegetables and enhances them. For me, seasoning your vegetables is the most important rule in making them taste great.

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THE ONE TAKEAWAY YOU WANT READERS OF NEIGHBORHOOD TO HAVE? Eating vegetables is a way of life! I want to show readers how creative and brave you can be with plants, how to confidently pair them with legumes, grains, spices, herbs and nuts to bring them to life. Once you experience the heartiness and comfort of eating a full-bodied plant-based salad, you won’t even think about what is missing from your plate, because you will be too busy savoring all the delicious flavors! 

FAVORITE CITY FOR FOOD? Paris, because you can eat bread and cheese with abandon! I never really eat pastries, especially sweet pastries, but in Paris, I grow crazy for the banana chocolate croissants. And luckily, I really love warm goat cheese salad. (There’s even a French-inspired chapter in Neighborhood!) 

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IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, HOW DO THE COOKING TECHNIQUES AND FLAVORS DIFFER BETWEEN AUSTRALIA AND AMERICA? It is undeniable that America is where food trends are born and disseminated across the world. In Australia I can see these influences everywhere, from the burger joints to the Southern-style ribs, the taco joints, fried chicken, and the donut craze. But where foods like this are very much a part of America’s traditions and history, these are just fads in Australia. From an everyday sense, eating in Australia is very clean and fresh. Ultimately, with a bigger population and busier lifestyle, food in America must be faster.

CURRENT LIFE MOTTO? Live outside of your comfort zone.  

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Roasted Golden Beets with Lentils, Soft Herbs, and Lemon-Saffron Yogurt

Hetty McKinnon

  • Ingredients

    • Serves 4 to 6 

      • 8 golden beets (about 3½ pounds; 1.6 kilograms), peeled and cut into ½ inch (1 cm) cubes 
      • 3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
      • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar 
      • 2 cups (400 grams) brown lentils, rinsed 
      • 2 cups soft herb leaves (parsley, dill, cilantro, chives, mint, oregano, or tarragon)
      • Sea salt and black pepper 

      Lemon-Saffron Yogurt 

      • Pinch of saffron strands 
      • 1½ cups (375 grams) Greek yogurt 
      • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
      • Squeeze of lemon juice 
      • Sea salt and black pepper 

      Substitutes 

      • Golden beets: red or target beets
  • The Prep

      1. Preheat the oven to 400 ̊F (200 ̊C). 
      2. Place the beets on a large baking tray, drizzle over 2–3 tablespoons of olive oil and the white balsamic vinegar. Season well with salt and pepper and roast for 30–35 minutes, or until the beets are tender. 
      3. Place the lentils in a saucepan and cover with plenty of cold water. Add a big pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 20–25minutes or until just tender. Drain. 
      4. To make the lemon-saffron yogurt, place the saffron strands in a small bowl and pour over 2 tablespoons of boiling water. Allow to steep for 10 minutes. When ready, add the yogurt to the saffron and water and stir to combine. Add the olive oil, squeeze in the lemon juice, and season well with salt and pepper. 
      5. To serve, combine the beets with the lentils and all the herbs. Fold the yogurt through, season with salt and pepper, and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

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