Sunday 22 March 2015
Roasted Beetroot and Blood Orange Salad
I want to share a great salad idea for you to try. Many restaurants have their own version of a beet and citrus salad because those two ingredients work so well together. Add a bitter green to compliment the sweetness with crunchy nuts and a creamy cheese and you have a well-rounded, complex yet simple first course. I'm going to do something a little different with this post. I want to encourage you to use your creativity. Instead of building a recipe, I'm going to share the list of ingredients and a couple of techniques to use those ingredients to their full potential. The amounts of how much you need of everything are totally up to you and how many servings you're preparing.
I made a trip to the farmer's market this weekend and got me some fantastic, local beets. I love beets in salad. In Spring of last year I made a similar roasted beet salad, although I had committed a cardinal sin and forgot to add my walnuts. I was missing a whole element of the final salad and didn't realize it until it was too late. So I needed to redeem myself with another great beet salad with the walnuts included.
For the citrus aspect of the salad I chose blood oranges. I don't usually see them this early in the year so I when I saw them I sprang for them. A blood orange is an orange that is stained either partially or in full with red, both the peel and the juicy flesh. It's flavour is similar to a regular orange only with a little tartness, but in a raspberry sort of way rather than a citrus sort of way (if that makes any sense). They're fantastic and they look beautiful. If you can't get blood oranges, any other orange or grapefruit will work fine in its place.
Another of the ingredients for this salad is goat cheese. While I was at the market I stopped at the cheese purveyor and told them about my salad idea and asked them if they had anything they recommended. They suggested a French rondin de poitou chèvre. It was soft, creamy, mildly tangy and really delicious so I used that. Any goat cheese you can find will work well in this salad, so long as you enjoy it. If you are fortunate enough to actually make it a specialized cheese vendor, I encourage you to ask the staff what they recommend. They're the professionals and no one else is going to have a better reference of the best products they have available to you. It opens you up to trying new things and you'll likely get a couple of free samples while you're at it. Who knows? Something you try might inspire you for something else. You'll never know until you see for yourself.
As for the green part of the salad, I used dandelion greens. Yes, that's right; as in the weeds. Dandelion greens are commonly added to salad mixes. You may have already tried them without knowing it. I bought mine at the market. Could you use dandelions from your own yard of garden? That depends. Never use dandelions that may have come in contact with any kind of weed killer (poison), so definitely nowhere public like a park or something. Dandelion greens are quite delicate in texture, similar to spinach, but rather peppery and bitter in flavour. It's also quite rich in minerals and vitamins, believe it or not. Roasted beets have an evident natural sweetness as does the citrus sweetness of the oranges. The dressing in this salad is based on an emulsion of runny honey and balsamic. There are a lot of layers of different sweetnesses going on in this dish. That's why a bitter green like dandelion is perfect. A sparing amount of bitter flavour really compliments the sweet flavours and creates balance. I wouldn't use a pile of dandelion greens for this approach. That's one of the reasons I'm not specifying the amounts as I would in a recipe so you can play around with the amounts and see what combinations you like best. If you can't find dandelion greens, arugula is a nice alternative.
So now that we've ironed out the things you needed to know, let's get on with the ingredients that go in the salad. At the end of the recipe I will share a recipe for the dressing. It's very simple, 3 ingredients plus salt and pepper. You can't mess it up.
Crushed walnuts, toasted
Let's take a look at how to prep the beets, There are a few ways you can cook beats but I find the best way is to wrap them in foil and roast them in the oven. When the beets cook in this manner all the starch converts to natural sugar and the flavour not only sweetens but gets concentrated as well.
First you'll have to get your hands on some fresh beetroot. Here are some that I've washed and scrubbed.
Enclose the beets in a parcel of aluminum foil. The parcel should be tightly sealed but loosely fitted. Depending on how large your beets are, you may need to wrap them individually. This is just a very straight forward way to roast beets. You could add a little olive oil, salt and pepper but it's not all that necessary here.
Preheat your oven to 400 F/204 C and place the sealed beets in the middle of the rack for 60-90 minutes. Every time I have roasted beets I've always found them to take longer than what a previous recipe instructed. To check if they're done, carefully open the foil keeping in mind that the parcel will be full of hot steam.
Use a fork to test the doneness of the beets. They should be soft enough for the fork to pierce with little resistance. If they're not quite at that stage, reseal the foil and put them back in the oven until they're done.
Let the beets stand for 10 minutes or until they are cool enough to handle, but still quite warm. Use a paper towel to rub the peels off the beets. If they are cooked enough, the skins should come off easily. If you didn't already know, beets are notorious for staining so don't wear white while you do this. Make sure if any cutting boards or surfaces get beet juice on them that you wipe them as soon as possible before the stain sets. Once peeled, cut off any unattractive ends from the beets.
Now you have your own roasted and peeled beets at your disposal. I recommend slicing them more or less the same thickness you will the blood oranges, but that's up to you.
For your blood oranges, you'll need to cut away the peel before slicing up the fruit. Slice off each end of the orange.
With the ends sliced off, the orange should sit evenly on the cutting board without moving around.
Then slice away the peel. This requires a little technique. Just try your best to waste as little of the orange as possible.
Your orange should look something like this when you're done.
Then it's just a matter of slicing them about the same width as your beets.
Now it's time to assemble your salad. Take the dish of your choice and lay a few sprigs of the dandelion greens. Remember to use a sparing amount compared to your beet and orange portions, or to your taste.
Then sprinkle the salad with crushed, toasted walnuts and crumbled goat cheese. Scatter the nuts and cheese from a bit of a height and let them fall and land naturally.
Now it's time to dress the salad. The dressing couldn't be easier.
1 tbsp runny honey
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (good quality preferred)
4 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
In a small bowl, combine the honey and balsamic vinegar. Whisk to combine. The honey won't cooperate right away but after a few seconds it will form a beautiful, silky emulsion. Then whisk in the olive oil until thoroughly combined and season as desired with salt and pepper. The honey not only adds flavour to the dressing but it keeps the oil and vinegar emulsified. This makes enough to dress 4 salads if you are making them the same size as this example. Feel free to double or triple the recipe as required.
Then use a spoon to lightly drizzle the salad with the honey-balsamic dressing. It's the perfect accompaniment to this beautiful salad.
You and your dinner guests are going to love this inviting salad. It's an exquisite symphony of colour, sweetness, earthiness, bitterness, crunchiness, saltiness and creaminess. The blood oranges remind me of stained glass and they pair beautifully with the beets. The green of the dandelion really pops against the contrasts of the salad's purples, reds and oranges. It looks as beautiful as it tastes. Overall it's a very refreshing salad that is sure to entice the appetites of your guests for the second course you have planned.
Please give this a try and be as creative as you like. This is a popular flavour combination that you can have fun with. You may even choose to add a little thinly sliced red onion or radish which works well with this profile too. It's all up to you. There are so many opportunities at your fingertips.
Until we meet again, Foodies!