June 28th, 2012

The Beet Goes On

As a child, the thought of eating a beet was thoroughly disgusting to me. First of all, unless it’s a berry, food is not supposed to be that color. Second, since the only beets I had ever tasted were the pickled kind from a jar, I thought they tasted pretty much like dirt with vinegar on it. Over the years, I would wonder if my palate had grown sophisticated enough to appreciate the flavor of a beet. Full of hope, I would taste another pickled one. Nope. Maroon dirt and vinegar. Gross.

Then one beautiful spring day, having lunch with my husband in the open window of a French café in Richmond, I bravely ordered the roasted golden beet salad. I don’t know why, I just did. It sounded so…French. The waiter presented my plate, and there they were – little golden nuggets artfully arranged atop a small handful of arugula, lightly drizzled with Dijon vinaigrette. How could anything so lovely not be delicious? It did not disappoint. The flavor of the tender beets was earthy and slightly sweet. The texture was almost velvety. The contrast with the crisp and slightly bitter arugula was a match made in Heaven…or maybe Paris.

So here is my version. I have added goat cheese because I adore the way it goes with the beets, and toasted pecans for a little crunch. I like pear vinaigrette with this salad, but use your favorite. The key ingredient, of course, are the beets. Any color will work as long as they are fresh. I used golden and pink…their flavors are slightly milder than the more common red beets, although the red ones work perfectly well in this recipe, too.

To prepare the beets:
1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Twist green tops off of beets, but leave ¼” or so still attached. Do not peel or cut the tops and roots off as this will allow all the juices to run out as the beets cook. Wash beets well.
3. Line a shallow baking pan with a large sheet of foil. Place whole beets on foil and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, rubbing over the whole surface of the vegetable. Sprinkle with salt. Bring up sides of foil to make a package and wrap tightly.
4. Cook in oven for about 1 to 1 ½ hours, depending on the size of the beets. Check for doneness by inserting a thin knife. It should penetrate the beet easily. Remove from oven when done, allow to cool. (Beets may be prepared to this stage and kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.)
5. When beets are cool enough to handle, use a paper towel to easily remove the skins. You may need to use a knife to remove the tops. Slice beets into bite-sized chunks.

Toast pecans in a dry skillet over medium high heat. Toss frequently and remove from heat as soon as the color starts to change slightly.

Remember my lettuce pot? I gathered arugula and other mixed greens for this salad. Mache would also be good. Just please don’t use regular lettuce. This salad deserves interesting, flavorful greens.

Arrange greens on plate. Top with beets, toasted pecans and crumbled goat cheese. Drizzle lightly with vinaigrette, salt and pepper to taste.

I paired this salad with a slightly oaked chardonnay. The floral notes of the chardonnay work well with the goat cheese while the oak compliments the toasted pecans and earthy goodness of the beets.

Note I said “earthy” not “dirt”.


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