If your experience of beets is limited to those sad canned specimens, the ghoulish and rubbery machine-cut rounds that have been boiled to death and locked up in the dark, floating in a metallic brine, only to be released onto salad bars and hospital trays across America, then I wouldn’t blame you for not being a “beet person”. On behalf of beets everywhere, I implore you to take some of these beauties home from the market and roast them yourself. Don’t be surprised if you find that you’ve suddenly become “upbeet” and in fact, start doing little dances of joy when you see them piled up at the store, as I did this past week.
I was craving something light. Something bright and clean after all the glorious heaviness of Thanksgiving, and this salad just hit every note that I love in a dish: freshness, color, crunch, acid, salt, natural sweetness, and fat. Eating this I was thinking: I could have this everyday and never tire of it. Everything about it was pleasing and nourishing and satisfying. It could be a meal in itself, or a starter for a larger meal…it could accompany a soup, a sandwich, a pizza, some crusty bread with more olive oil to dip into. The main thing is: roast some beets. Roast some of these gorgeous golden ones, or the mellow yellow ones, or even the work-a-day red ones, but go ahead and bring some of them home and see for yourself how a simple cooking technique brings out the best in these long-maligned roots. They will pay you back for your attention by giving you a sweet result, that is very high in iron, vitamin C and potassium.
Cut off the stems and leaves, and give them a good wash and brush. They will be quite gritty. No, they do not look pretty. But just show them a little love and you’ll see how they’ll transform for you. Drizzle them with some fine olive oil, salt and pepper, wrap them up in a foil pouch and let them basque in the warmth of your oven for a good hour or so.
See? It’s all about inner beauty with these. You didn’t know that beets could teach you so much, did you? I think the saying goes “Don’t judge a beet by it’s cover.”
Peel the beets…the skin just washes off under running water, with a little light rubbing. Whisk up a quick vinaigrette with olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper. Crumble a good sheep’s milk feta, or some goat cheese, and add a few good briny olives, like calamata’s.
Quarter a few of the gorgeous beets, and bring this happy family of flavors all together on a bed of mixed greens and romain. Drizzle with dressing and find a sunny spot in your home to sit and savor this. When you close your eyes and taste the salty-creamy-acidy-crispy-sweetness of this salad, and feel the sun on your face, you can pretend you are somewhere overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean, with white-washed villas rising up the hills behind you. Yes, a roasted beet can do all that for you. Trust me.
Greek Salad with Roasted Beets, Olives, and Feta
adapted from Home Cooking with Jean-Georges, Jean-Georges Vongerichten
4 medium beets (gold, red, or candy-striped, or a mix of each)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup minced red onion (optional, if you are like me and don’t like raw onions)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes, or minced fresh Thai chile
6 celery heart stalks, sliced 1/2 inch thick length wise, then chopped into bite-sized chunks
Celery leaves for garnish
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (I prefer feta made from sheep’s milk), or goat cheese
1/2 cup pitted olives (calamata or nicoise or a mix)
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, thinly sliced (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
4 cups of mixed greens, and torn romaine leaves
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Clean the beets, cutting off the stems, leaves and trimming the root side to create a flat surface. Arrange the beets on a large sheet of foil, on top of a sheet pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and then season with salt and pepper. Wrap tightly and roast in the oven until a knife pierces through the beets easily, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Unwrap, and when cool enough to handle, peel the beets under running water by rubbing the skin gently with your fingers. Cut beets into 1 inch wedges.
2. Whisk together the vinegar, remaining olive oil, the onion, chile, and 1 teaspoon (or more to taste) of salt.
3. Place the greens, romaine and celery in a large bowl. Drizzle with part of the dressing and toss, until coated. Divide among 4 plates. Evenly distribute the feta, olives and beet wedges among the 4 plates. Top with celery leaves and drizzle more dressing over the beets and cheese. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately.