December 7, 2004
Sweet Beets and Bitter "Greens" Salad

Beets are the red-headed stepchild of the salad bar. For so long we've suffered through with the nasty canned beets at the local salad emporium that we've lost sight of what an amazing vegetable beets can be.

Like most children I had a serious aversion to beets after the very first time I tried them. I don't remember the experience exactly, but I'm sure it was early in life and the beets were limp, pickled, and flavorless. Beets = yuck.

As part of my culinary adventurism, I happened on a restaurant a few years ago in Seattle just a block or so from the Hotel Monaco where I stayed. (Bon Vivant, maybe you can help? It was a little bit south and east of the hotel.) They featured a red and gold beet salad with blue cheese and walnuts with walnut oil dressing.

I skeptically but gamely ordered the salad and was very pleasantly surprised by the result. The beets were cubed finely, dressed perfectly and served on a bed of bitter greens that balanced the sweetness of the beets. I almost cancelled my main course and ordered another round of the beet salad appetizer.

This is not a recreation of that dish, but an incarnation of the spirit of the dish. I couldn't find walnut oil at the time I made this (I now have some), so I used peanut oil. You can of course substitute whatever you like. I wonder how hazlenut oil and hazlenuts would do.

Sweet Beets and Bitter "Greens" Salad

2-3 gold beets
2-3 red beets
one small head radicchio - the round kind
4 small-medium belgian endives
4 oz. crumbled blue cheese
2 small limes (not key lime small, but regular small)
1/3 cup plus 2-3 tablespoons of walnut oil (or peanut oil to substitute)
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dried thyme
3 oz. shelled walnut halves

Peel and dice the beets into 1/2" dice. Keep the gold one separate from the red if you want best color. If you don't care about the color, mix them together.

Place the beets in a roasting pan (or two pans if you want them separate) and lightly drizzle two or three tablespoons of oil on them. Salt the beets lightly and roast in a 350 oven until mostly tender - about 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, core and shred your raddicihio into 1/4" strips. Cut the ends off the endives and slice into 1" strips diagonally along the heads. Mix raddichio and endive throughly in a big bowl.

Mix together 1/3 cup nut oil, apple cider vinegar, thyme, and a pinch of salt. Taste. The dressing should be just a bit too oily.

Remove beets from oven and let cool five minutes. If you've put them in separate pans by color, combine the beets and toss with 2 tablespoons of the dressing you've just made to coat thoroughly but lightly.

Add all but one tablespoon of the dressing to the raddichio/arugula mix and toss. Juice the limes into the arugula/raddichio and toss again.

Toss walnuts in reserved tablespoon of dressing.

To serve, place a heap of "greens" (reds and whites, really) on a plate. Make a divot in the center of the greens and pile the beets up in the center of the plate. Crumble blue cheese around the beets, and sprinkle walnuts around the blue cheese.

This dish hits all the tastebuds. For sweet, you have the beets; for salty, the blue cheese; for bitter, the greens; for sour, the lime juice on the greens; and for umami, you have the walnuts. It's addictive. If the texture of the beets is just right (tender but still giving resistance to the teeth), you'll have a hard time walking away until you've cleaned your plate.

I served this last week to my wife as a main course in an enormous bowl. She proclaimed it "too much food", but proceded to devour the entire mess. It's pretty low calorie (depending on your oil usage), and should give you a shot of vitamins your body may not be used to receiving. One warning - the aftereffects the next day can be a bit dramatic, but don't worry, you're not dying, that's just the red betacyanins from the beets passing through.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at December 7, 2004 7:00 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

Beets are the best. When roasted they have an amazing sweetness.

I used to hate them as a kid as well. Can't understand why, not only are they the color of candy but as you noted they dye funny things a funny color.

Posted by Todd on December 7, 2004 at 12:13 PM

I was lucky because my grandmother grew beets in her garden, so I was introduced to the fresh product long before the canned ones. I remember how good her kitchen would smell when she was boiling them and her pickled beets were delicious! Sounds great to me!

Posted by Meg in Paris on December 7, 2004 at 12:37 PM

I never hated beets... I've always loved them, boiled and buttered, with salt and pepper. But we also had them in th garden when I was growing up, so maybe that's why.

I need to try roasting them... bringing out their sweetness may be the key to a better borscht recipe.

Posted by paul on December 7, 2004 at 12:42 PM
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