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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Winter Salad with Beets



So you don't like beets but you've heard of all the wonderful antioxidants and other nutrients they provide? Well, here is a salad that even non-beet eaters have been known to praise, and even have seconds and third servings. This is best made with beets you have roasted, but you can improvise with canned beets--just understand the flavor will not come up to that of the freshly roasted ones.

This salad is successful because it pairs some strong flavors--feta cheese and a good vinagrette dressing--with sweet apples and mild (yes, that really is an adjective for them) beets. The deep green of the lettuce and/or spinach provides a great mix of colors, and the addition of nuts which can be optional) increases the textural variety.

With protein and lots of vitamins, pairing this with some good bread makes a complete meal. Skip the nuts (a little cheaper that way) and serve smaller portions for a nice bright side salad to go along with a simple meal of mac and cheese or some other quick weeknight meal.

One caveat:  This really needs to be tossed together at the last minute, as the beets will be very happy to share their color with both the apples and the feta if left together for any length of time.

First, some basics for preparing the beets.

Roasted Beets

Whole beets, scrubbed and with about half an inch or so of the greens left on top
Closed roasting pan OR other oven-proof dish with a tight fitting cover
Water

1.  Scrub the beets well, but don't worry if you have a few kind of scaly areas that seem a little hard to get fully clean. Avoid cutting off spots or the root at the bottom at this stage, as any cuts in the beets will cause them to "bleed," losing color, flavor, and nutrients.

2.  Put beets of roughly similar size into a roasting pan or casserole dish. Add about half an inch to an inch of water to the pan and cover.

3.  Place in a 375 to 400 degree oven and begin checking for doneness after about 30 to 45 minutes. Because beets vary so much in size and their cooking time will depend on their size, the time it will take to roast them can vary a great deal.

To test for doneness, use a potholder or heavy towel (one that you won't worry if it gets stained) and squeeze the beet. It should be quite soft. If you have beets of varying sizes, you may need to take out the smaller ones when they are soft, recover the pan, and return the larger ones to the oven for more time. If the water has boiled away, be sure to add more, as the beets need the steam to be sure that they soften well.

4.  When the beets are done, wait until they are cool enough to handle and then use a small knife to help remove the skin. If they have cooked fully, the skins will almost slide off, with only the tops and the roots really needing to be cut off.


Beets may be used immediately or refrigerated for up to a week. You can also slice or dice the beets (or keep whole) and freeze in meal-sized packages.




You will notice a lack of really exact proportions in the salad "recipe." This is because salads are best when ingredients are freely chosen and tossed together in proportions that you prefer, and that reflect what you happen to have in the refrigerator at the time. This is more of a guide to get you experimenting with a delightful flavor combination of sweet beets and apples along with the salty tang of the feta cheese, and the crisp and brightly colored greens. And yes, even the lowly iceberg lettuce can play a part in a salad like this; its much-maligned light green color can add some contrast--and can stretch more expensive greens so that there is salad enough for all. 


Winter Salad with Beets

Greens of choice:
  • mixed lettuces (ex. "spring mix")
  • romaine, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • spinach leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • iceberg lettuc, torn into bite-sized pieces
beets, cut in about 1 inch cubes (while roasted ones are best, you can substitute drained, canned beets)
apples, cored but not peeled, cut to approximately the same size as the beets
finely chopped onion
feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
coarsely chopped walnuts or broken pecan halves (optional)
balsamic and olive oil vinagrette dressing OR raspberry vinagrette dressing
dried or chopped, fresh basil (optional)
freshly ground black pepper (optional)



1.  For a main dish salad, allow about 2 cups of greens for each serving; for a side salad, use only about half that amount per serving.
2.  For each 2 cups of greens, use about 1/4 cup each apples and beets and 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped onion, to taste. An ounce of feta (about the size of a pair of dice or the size of your thumb above the first joint) per serving is about right too, though up to an ounce and a half can be good too. A tablespoon or so of nuts per serving is probably going to be a nice amount.
3.  Just before serving, put all the ingredients in the salad bowl and toss with enough dressing to lightly coat the leaves. If desired, sprinkle a bit of basil and/or freshly ground pepper over the top.


One more thing: A way to keep apples from browning if you need to prepare them ahead of serving.

Using the smallest container that will hold the apples you will be preparing, put a mixture of about one part of lemon juice (I use reconstituted, like ReaLemon, for this) to about two to three parts water. Cut the apples to the desired size and put into the lemon juice mixture, making sure the apples are completely covered. Cover tightly and refrigerate until using. This will hold the apples for a few hours.