Browsing through the photographs of my early cooking ‘career’ (which began only four years ago), I came across this photo of one of my favorite salads. I think that this salad was both, the cause and the effect, of my fascination (or some may even call it obsession) with beets. It was during the making of this salad that I discovered for the first time the concept of roasting beets, as oppose to boiling them. All these years, I watched my mother load the huge stockpot with beets for our holiday meals (can’t have a Ukrainian holiday table without at least one or two beet-dominating dishes, but that’s a separate story) and it never occurred to me that it’s possible to prepare beets in any other way (let alone crunch on raw roots).
Until I made this salad. After patiently waiting 40 minutes and carefully unwrapping shiny foil parcels revealing small beetroots, glistening with drops of olive oil and sprinkles of dried thyme sprigs, there was no going back. Roasting beets, paired with sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme, brings out the slightly smoky sweetness that, in my experience, is lacking in boiled beets, and produces nice, firm texture, a far cry from mushiness of canned beets. This salad has become my ‘backup’ side dish that I serve to guests when nothing else comes to mind as well as my top choice for consuming beets throughout the winter.
I can’t even remember where I first saw this recipe but over the years, I have seen multiple recipe books featuring beet-orange combination in various contexts. I love this simple five-ingredient version, which complements earthy beets and zesty oranges with toasted, crunchy walnuts, creamy goat cheese, and heaps of fresh spinach. To be honest, I can’t remember what dressing I use for this but I would recommend to keep it simple, so that it does not overwhelm the key ingredients. This easy salad makes an equally satisfying lunch as well as a bright holiday dish, especially during grey winter days.
Beets & Oranges Salad
– 4-5 small fresh beets, unpeeled, with roots trimmed
– 1 large and juicy orange
– handful of raw walnuts
– bunch of fresh baby spinach or arugula, washed and dried
– natural goat cheese
– 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 1 tsp maple syrup or agave nectar
– 2 tbs olive oil
– 2-3 fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs
Preheat oven to 200C/375F. Wash and dry the beetroots (do not peel), arrange on the baking sheet lined with foil. Drizzle 1 tbs of olive oil, sprinkle thyme sprigs, roll the beets around to ensure they are evenly coated. Cover with another piece of foil and pinch the ends around the perimeter to make a neat parcel. Send into the oven for at least 40 minutes, or more, depending on the size (large beets may need an hour). You can test readiness by peeking into the parcel (watch out for hot steam!) and piercing one root with a fork. If it slides in and out easily, they are ready. Take them out, let cool slightly, then using paper towel, rub the skin off –it should come off fairly easy. Slice into bite-size segments. Beware, your workspace and your hands will be purple so if this is not your favorite color, use gloves and work on the same piece of foil in which you roasted beets so you could just throw it away later (that’s what I usually do).
Peel the orange using knife, then slice into individual segments over the bowl, making sure juice does not escape. Toast walnuts for 3-4 minutes at 180C/350F degrees, or until you can smell them. Whisk apple cider, maple syrup, and the remaining olive oil (I also like using walnut oil). Assemble the salad. If you are ready to eat it immediately, start with greens, add beets, oranges (plus the juice), crumbled goat cheese, walnuts, and the dressing. Salt and pepper optional. If you are not serving salad right away, it’s probably best to keep ingredients separately or else beets will stain everything purple. As you probably already figured from peeling them. Enjoy!