Beet Salad with Dates and Pecans
Mother was right…you have to eat your beets! They are extremely good for you and packed with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Even though beets are not exactly at their peak in the winter months, they seem perfect for a hearty winter salad. Beets seem to fall somewhere in the category of “love ’em or hate ’em”. When my sister was here last fall I suggested a beet salad for dinner; her reply was an immediate “Hell NO!” Their distinct flavor can be a bit overwhelming for some. A little finesse and balancing of those intensely earthy flavors can make a convert out of the most avid beet hater in the group, and you know who you are (Mary).
The best way to enjoy beets is start out with the freshest ones you can find. Try to find some with nice crisp greens on top as this is a good indication of freshness (plus they are good to eat as well). The beets should be firm, free from marks or cuts, and the tap root should be intact and not overly “hairy” (this is an indication that it is old, and likely to be tough). Some stores actually carry them already trimmed, or they trim them in the store. Avoid buying them as they are probably old. When you get your beets home and are not planning on using them right away, cut the stems about two inches above the beet as they can draw moisture from the root. Never cut into the beet. You need to leave the skin intact because they will bleed and your kitchen will look like you committed murder. Save the tops if you plan on eating them or just discard them.
You can boil or steam them but my favorite way to prepare beets is roasting them. It is the best way to bring out their natural sweetness and it is easy too. Wash them well and place them on a piece of foil and drizzle them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap them up and place into a 400 degree oven for 60-90 minutes. The time can vary greatly depending on the size and age of the beets. I usually try to make sure they are all the same size so they cook evenly. They are ready when a sharp knife easily pierces them. When they are done remove them from the oven and let them cool. Trim the tops and bottoms, slip the skin off and cut into cubes, slices, or julienne. They will keep in the fridge for about a week so I usually cook more than I need so I can enjoy them for a few days. I like to put a little vinaigrette on them. They get tastier everyday as they marinate.
A colleague of mine made this salad for me years ago and it is still one of my favorites. It is a bit complex but you can prepare it well in advance and assemble it at the last minute. I use red and gold beets in this salad as it is both striking and elegant. You need to keep the two colors apart until you plate or the red beets will color the gold ones red. You can also substitute and improvise depending on what you have available and it will always come out great. I like to use manchego which is a firm, mild cheese from Spain; but, you may prefer a stronger cheese such as parmesan or dry jack. I made it before with both a blood orange or balsamic vinaigrettes. However, if you are using gold beets you need to use a pale color dressing like a champagne vinaigrette.
- 1 medium beet, roasted, peeled and sliced into julienne strips
- Wild arugula (a generous handful)
- One or two ounces of shaved Manchego
- 1 fresh date, pitted and sliced into strips
- A smattering of candied pecans (see recipe)
- Roast your beets, and cut into julienne strips.
- Add enough vinaigrette to lightly coat them. If you are using red and gold beets, keep them in separate bowls or they will all end up red.
- When you are ready to plate, put a handful of Arugula on each plate followed by the beets, cheese and slivered dates.
- Finish off by topping with the pecans.
- You may need a little more dressing, but usually I find that the dressing on the beets is sufficient.
- Serve immediately.
- ¼ sugar
- ¼ pecans, whole of slivered
- Heat a small non-stick pan over medium high heat. Add the sugar and constantly stir using a wooden spoon until the sugar has melted being careful not to let it burn. You will notice it start to caramelize.
- Stir in the nuts to coat evenly.
- Turn out onto a sheet of parchment paper and allow to cool.
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 small shallot, sliced thinly, then chopped
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup Champagne vinegar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- ½ cup olive oil
- Combine the garlic, shallots, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well.
- Slowly add the oil in a slow steady stream while whisking vigorously. By adding the oil slowly, your dressing will “emulsify” and form a smooth velvety dressing that won’t easily separate.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning to suit yourself.