Summer Stacked Beet Salad

So this recipe is an amalgam of three inspirational food moments - one, eating a marinated beet with horseradish cream salad at Radio Room in Portland; two, having a purslane and roasted beet salad at the incomparable Chez Panisse cafe, where I was lucky enough to go with Alex and his parents last summer for our birthdays; and three, seeing a photograph on the interwebs of roasted beet napoleons. I have been dreaming of creating this beet salad for some time - the farmer's market made the moment able to happen by making available purslane! I had never had it prior to my Chez Panisse visit - but it's an excellent green - apparently known as a weed through North America - it has a really extraordinary flavor - slightly spicy, lemony, sweet. It's wonderful. So, I purchased a box, along with beautiful golden and red beets, and locally made goat cheese in anticipation of this salad.

Here is what you need: fresh beets, golden and red; prepared horseradish; sour cream; goat cheese, freshly made if you can get it; a handful of herbs (I used tarragon and parsley); pistachios; purslane, or if you can't find it, watercress or other pretty, citrus-y, or peppery green.

The salad is slightly high maintenance, in that it has many component parts, but I think they're all important to making it truly exceptional, based on the flavors I've experienced in the salad inspirations.

So begin with the beets. I had seven total, medium in size, from two farmer's markets bunches. Roast them. I looked up how to do this in the Joy of Cooking, which hardly ever ceases to help me with basic kitchen tasks I've never tried before. Preheat the oven to 350, and cut the greens off your beets, so there is about one inch of greens left on the beet. Place them in a glass pan, I used an old casserole dish with a glass top that I have, it worked great. Add about a half cup of water. If you don't have a top, use foil. Roast them, depending on size, 45 minutes to an hour, until they can be easily pierced with a knife.

 It should slide right into it, the only thing I can think that is a good reference is a potato you are planning to mash - soft like that. I checked mine at 45 minute then left them in the oven another five. I took them out, left the lid on, and continued to let them steam another ten minutes. They were tender and and lovely and fragrant and OH! Please change out of your nice clothes and into something you don't care much about - because look at that knife; beet juice stains - and you're about to have all kinds of beet juice all over you. So, I removed those beets to a plate to let them cool a bit.

While the beets were roasting, I got other component parts of the salad ready. I have a fairly substantial herb garden, and after consulting the internet for flavor pairings, I clipped a bit of parsley and some tarragon to chop and combine with my farmer's market goat cheese.

 If you can't get to the farmer's market for goat cheese, they probably have it at your local upscale market, if nowhere else. Homemade is so good though, and worth seeking out. Chowhound exists for a reason friends - but I digress.

 So I chopped these herbs and stirred them together with maybe a half cup of the goat cheese. I wasn't really measuring anything on this - but I probably had about two tablespoons of chopped herbs to mix in. I left the cheese out to soften even more to make for easy spreading later.

 I then made a horseradish dressing - probably the easiest part of this endeavor. I didn't measure, but I probably spooned about 1/4 cup sour cream into a bowl and added a heaping tablespoon of horseradish. Combine. Done!

Finally, I toasted the pistachios, which I shelled first. Get out a small pan, like you would use for cooking an egg by its lonesome. If you have a le creuset, use that so you can heat it while you're shelling the pistachios - otherwise just use a non-stick pan and heat it up once the pistachios are in the pan. Toast on about a four on an electric stove, and move them around frequently so they don't burn. To see if they are ready, I lean my head close to the nuts and use my hand to whiff the smell towards me - when they smell nutty and roasty, they're finished. This took about ten or fifteen minutes.

After they cool in a bowl for a few minutes, grind them in your nut grinder. And if you don't have one, you could chop them. But seriously, get a nut grinder - it is a great kitchen tool for a baker or cook.

After you finish these tasks, the beets should be about ready. Once they are cool enough to touch, you can peel the beet skins right off. I didn't drop them in ice cold water when hot, like you do when you blanch a tomato, but was thinking that might make the skins pull away from the beet and be even easier to remove - try it and let me know. So remove all the skins and prepare to have very stained fingers while you work. Don't worry though, that beautiful magenta washes right off with soap and water. After this task is complete, you're ready for salad assembly! 

Cut the beets into about half in rounds. You'll probably have leftover beets, which you can use later in a salad - which I will be doing tomorrow! Yum! So, after you cut the beets, try to find two red and two golden rounds that are nearly the same size. If you want these to be exact rounds, get a small cookie cutter.
Take the bottom round, and spread with a little - maybe a spoonful, of the goat cheese mixture. Stack the different color beet round on top and spread it with the goat cheese mixture. Do this one more time, then top with one last round. Once you've made as many as you want (with this recipe I had enough for four salads), place each one on a salad plate.

Rinse and dry your purslane or other green, and place in a circle around the stacked beet.

 Then spoon horseradish on the top of the salad, and around the salad in little circles. Sprinkle the pistachios over the top. And you're done!

These are incredibly delicious. I thought they needed just a touch of sel gris to finish them off perfectly, Alex thought they were delicious without the salt, so maybe top the pistachios with a tiny sprinkle of salt if you find they need it. These are relatively simple to make, if time consuming, and will make a gorgeous salad for a summer dinner party. Hope you love this salad as much as I do.


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