Friday, August 30, 2013

Beet Salad

For some, beets are an acquired taste. I, however, grew up eating them. My Grandma's beet barszcz was one of my favorite foods, and I never turned up my nose to jarred pickled beets. But red beets have that distinctive earthy flavor that can be hard for some to take. Other colors of beets can be milder - I've had orange beets that were as naturally sweet as candy, without the dirt flavor. The same goes for chioggia beets.

When raw, chioggias have alternating red and white concentric rings (which earned them the nickname "candy stripe" beets). Cooking turns them a fairly uniform medium fuchsia-pink. Their flavor is sweet and fruity, with little of the dirt earthiness of standard red beets. (Your palate may vary.)

The sweetness of beets makes them a perfect pairing for salty and tangy flavors, like vinegar, mustard, feta cheese, and olives, and an ideal salad ingredient. I like to add toasted walnuts, too, for a bit of buttery crunch.

Chioggia Beet Salad

2 beets, 2" - 3" in diameter, tops removed
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
generous pinch of salt
pinch garlic powder
pinch ground cumin
pinch ground paprika
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
greens of your choice (arugula is nice, but so is plain old romaine)
feta cheese
green or black olives
toasted walnuts
fresh dill and mint (optional, but nice)

Scrub any dirt off the beets and place them in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the beets are easily pierced with a knife. Turn off heat, remove beets from water, and allow to cool to a temperature comfortable enough to handle. Peel off and discard the skins. Slice the beets.

Place the orange juice, vinegar, mustard, and salt into a small bowl and beat well with a fork. Add the spices and beat again. Drizzle in the olive oil, beating constantly, until the ingredients are emulsified. Taste for seasoning and add more of whatever you think it needs. If you prefer a sweeter vinaigrette, whisk in a few drops of honey or agave syrup.

For each serving, place a handful of greens on a serving plate. Top with half the beets. Drizzle with a few spoonfuls of the dressing (whisk again if it has un-emulsified). Top with crumbles of feta, some sliced olives, pieces of walnut, and dill and mint.

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