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Grilled Beet, Figs & Goat Cheese Focaccia

I’ve written about a number of neuroscience topics on this blog so far: flavour, mind wandering, patience, optimism, the role of emotions in learning, semantic expectation, music and brain rhythms, pleasure, mental representation, team work in science and cross sensory perception.

And even though I’ve talked about pleasure before, I think this grilled beet, figs & goat cheese focaccia deserves another, more specific post. Who can ever get enough pleasure, right?!

Do we seek pleasure?

I guess most of us would agree that we all thrive for pleasure, but even so, I think pleasure is tremendously underrated and even misunderstood. How so? Well, first, life is short, but we’re not always aware of that. In our daily life we often feel trapped in our routines and obligations and forget to strive for pleasure. Of course the human brain is not wired for a continuous high, but we should actively seek a routine that brings us happiness and that is spicked with moments of sensory pleasure. Sometimes we are so caught up in our heads, we forget to consciously perceive all the little things that can bring us so much joy – if we just pay attention. Well-being and pleasure are a priority in our lives and we should actively build our lives around them and not leave it to the rare moments where we feel we’re free from other obligations.

Plan for pleasure!

Pleasure is an important part of well-being. But how is pleasure generated in our brains? Why is it so important? Is pleasure subjective or is there a kind of pleasure that we all share? Is there a difference between pleasure and happiness?

We should make sure to experience pleasure in a variety of ways – pleasure derived from eating, from sex, from reading a good book, from expressing ourselves in what we feel is our truest voice, from creating and accomplishing whatever we set out for (personal, academic, …), from impacting our environment in a positive way and more. Interestingly, studies show that the pleasure derived from contributing to the community has the most positive impact on our immune system (although the pathways are not well understood yet), (Blum et al., 2018).

Capitalism & Pleasure

As I think about it, it comes to my mind that the capitalist society is not designed for true pleasure. It’s designed for a continuous state of dissatisfaction – and the promise that through consuming we’ll become happier and truer to our selves. So all the technological progress we’ve achieved is not used to spend more time in a creative way, or in improving the conditions of humankind, battling hunger and inequality – wasn’t it that service to the community had the biggest positive impact on our immune system? But instead we feel overwhelmed by all the work, stressed and once we’re free of obligations we prefer a kind of entertainment that is passive because we’re too tired to want to use our brains in any slightly challenging way.

The neuroscience of pleasure

In general we know that these very different kinds of pleasures activate a surprisingly similar network in the brain (Blum et al. 2015). It seems thus, that the brain responds very similarly to all kinds of rewarding stimuli and behaviours.

It’s important to notice that wanting something that can bring us pleasure and the actual feeling of pleasure are different concepts are mediated differently in our brain. I think most of us associate the neurotransmitter dopamine with pleasure, but it seems to be related to wanting something, more than the actual pleasurable experience. The network for wanting a piece of this incredibly tasty grilled beet, fig and goat cheese focaccia is extensive and distributed in the brain, while the inmense pleasure you’ll feel when putting it into your mouth activates a few “hedonic hotspots” within the limbic circuitry (part of our evolutionary older, subcortical brain), (Berridge & Kringelbach, 2008).

Pleasure is important simply because it’s essential for normal functioning and well-being. The loss of the ability to experience pleasure is called anhedonia and is a symptom for an affective disorder. Evolutionary, the experience of pleasure has been a huge motivator for a better adaptation to our surroundings. Yet in our society of abundance it can be counter-productive and favour addictions. Hence, happiness and pleasure are not the same. There are behaviours that provide us with sensory pleasure (like eating ice cream), but if we pursue them all the time, at the long run they are a risk for our health and make us feel bad about ourselves (so choose focaccia, experiment pleasure and be happy!!).

The conscious experience of pleasure is a subjective interpretation of affective processes elicited by a rewarding stimulus and require additional neuronal networks. The objective pleasure experience can be measured in response to subliminal stimuli (so brief they don’t get processes consciously, but affect our behaviour and can be measured at the neuronal level). The network that gets activated with pleasurable experiences is very similar between humans and other animals. In humans the prefrontal cortex is especially evolved and is highly implicated in the hedonic experience, especially the orbitofrontal cortex.

From me to you

I’m writing this post from my wisest self (at least I’ve never been as old as today), but also from as young as a self as there will ever be. I’ll never be as young as today again – this awareness makes me want to be myself as much as I can be and to get as much out of life as I can. When I was younger, I was extremely timid and aware of myself and what anyone could think about me, so it’s a huge relief not to care that much anymore. So if you don’t like this post, that’s fine with me. But I still think you’ll love the recipe. It’s a good one. The earthy beet that thinly grilled is juicy and flavourful and combines oh so well with the sweetness and flavour of the figs, the goat cheese and the crunch that the pistachos lend. And don’t skip on the fresh rosemary!


For the dough:

  • 4 cups/500g spelt flour
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 35g/1.25oz fresh yeast or 1 sachet dry yeast 
  • 1-1 1/3 cups lukewarm water

For the grilled beets:

  • 3-4 raw beets
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt


  • 4 Figs
  • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 250g goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 handful of pistachos or pine nuts


  1. Put the flour and salt into a big kitchen bowl.
  2. Make a little mould in the middle and add the yeast.
  3. Pour the water in, little by little, mixing with the yeast. 
  4. When you’ve added 1 cup of water, start to knead. If you see that you need more water, add a tablespoon at a time until you obtain a smooth and elastic dough.
  5. Add the oil and knead to incorporate.
  6. Leave to proof at a warm place until it has doubled its volume (1-2h). Tip: if you want to work ahead, you can prepare the dough the day before and leave it to rise in the fridge overnight. This is my preferred method as it rises slower, but results in a more stable dough that makes it easy to work with it. 
  7. Switch on the grill function of your oven.
  8. Peel and finely slice the beetroots (you can use a mandolin or similar if you own one).
  9. Cover an oven tray with parchment paper and put the beet slices on top, all spread out.
  10. Oil and salt the beets.
  11. Grill the beet slices for 10min (be careful, they burn easily).
  12. Switch off the grill and heat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF.
  13. Roll the dough or flatten it with your hands on top of a parchment paper.
  14. Slide the dough on an oven tray and bake for 10-15min, until it’s slightly browned.
  15. Prick the dough with a fork and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. 
  16. Switch your oven to grill again.
  17. Cut the goat cheese and figs into slices and coarsely chop the pistachos (no need if you use pine nuts).
  18. Cover the dough focaccia with the beet, goat cheese, figs, pistachos and half of the rosemary. 
  19. Grill for 8-10min.
  20. Garnish with more rosemary, black pepper and a splash of olive oil. 


Berridge KC, Kringelbach ML (2008) Affective neuroscience of pleasure: reward in humans and animals. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 199: 457–480. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

Blum, K., Gondré-Lewis, M., Steinberg, B., Elman, I., Baron, D., Modestino, E. J., … Gold, M. S. (2018). Our evolved unique pleasure circuit makes humans different from apes: Reconsideration of data derived from animal studies. Journal of systems and integrative neuroscience, 4(1), 10.15761/JSIN.1000191. doi:10.15761/JSIN.1000191

Blum, K., Thanos, P. K., Oscar-Berman, M., Febo, M., Baron, D., Badgaiyan, R. D., … Gold, M. S. (2015). Dopamine in the Brain: Hypothesizing Surfeit or Deficit Links to Reward and Addiction. Journal of reward deficiency syndrome, 1(3), 95–104. doi:10.17756/jrds.2015-016


  1. Posted 22 Oct ’19 at 10:13 am | #

    Congrats for your first recipe video – it encourages to try it!! Thankyou!

    • Posted 27 Oct ’19 at 12:16 pm | #

      Thank you Bettina! Was für eine schöne Überraschung dich hier zu lesen!

  2. Pablo Grinstein
    Posted 22 Oct ’19 at 2:18 pm | #

    Hola Lenka:
    Felicitaciones por esta receta y el vídeo!!!

    • Posted 27 Oct ’19 at 12:15 pm | #

      Ohh muchas gracias Pablo!! Un abrazo!

  3. Sebastian
    Posted 22 Oct ’19 at 6:20 pm | #


    • Posted 27 Oct ’19 at 12:15 pm | #

      Gracias lindo, me pone muy contenta saber que te gustó el post!

  4. Angela
    Posted 24 Oct ’19 at 9:54 am | #

    Lenka, what a nice post to have read. Normally, like many others I’m sure, I scroll a few clicks down to get the recipe. This was so nice to read and just what I needed today. You’ve put a big smile on my face and I’m going to make this tart again as it was lovely 🙂
    Huge thank you and keep these lovely posts coming xxx

    • Posted 27 Oct ’19 at 12:14 pm | #

      Angela, you don’t know how much your words mean to me. I was overly happy to read your comment and to know that you enjoyed reading the post. A wholehearted thank you for your comment!

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