Roasted Beet Salad With Cornichon

roasted beet salad 
Words can’t express my passion for beets.  They’re sweet, tender, and are versatile enough to accompany a myriad of other flavors – mild chèvre, sharp vinegar, smooth olive oil (I could keep going for a while). I know that you’re supposed to cook (boil or roast) beets with the skins on, but I never knew why… before now.  Thanks Wikipedia:

The [red beet] pigments are contained in cell vacuoles. Beetroot cells are quite unstable and will ‘leak’ when cut, heated, or when in contact with air or sunlight. This is why red beetroots leave a purple stain. Leaving the skin on when cooking, however, will maintain the integrity of the cells and therefore minimise leakage.

Makes: 6 salad-size servings
Total kitchen time: 2 hours + marinating time

Shopping list:

  • 5 large red beets (skins on), stems trimmed to a small nub
  • 2 large sweet onions (such as Vidalia)
  • 1/4 cup cornichon, sliced into thin discs
  • 3 tbsp. orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1.5 tbsp. finely chopped tarragon
  • ooks&fgbp
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. 
  2. Create a double-layer aluminum foil pouch large enough to hold all the beets.  Arrange the beets in the pouch and drizzle to coat with olive oil.  Add a generous pinch of kosher salt and pepper, plus about 3 tbsp. of water.  The water will create steam, helping the beets stay moist and also loosening the skins from the beet meat.  Seal the foil pouch tightly and roast for about 90 minutes.  Remove from the oven and open the pouch to vent the steam.
  3. Meanwhile, peel the onion and slice it into 1/4" thick discs.  Separate each disc into rings (like when they make the onion volcano at Benihana.  Come on, it’s pretty cool).  Since I’m a little OCD, I only like to use the rings that are smaller in diameter than the largest beet.  Which means the outer 4-5 rings are usually discarded.  That’s up to you, though.
  4. Toss the onion rings (the ones you want to use) in a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place on a baking sheet and add to the bottom of your oven during the last 15 minutes of the beets roasting.  This will soften and sweeten the onions just slightly, without taking away their great crunch.
  5. Once the beets are cool enough to handle, rub the outsides with a paper towel to remove the skins.  Quarter the beets, then slice each quarter into 1/4" sections. 
  6. In a non-reactive dish, combine the beets, onions and cornichon.  Toss with enough olive oil to just barely coat, then season with kosher salt and pepper.  Add the vinegar and orange juice, and stir to mix.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes up to 24 hours. 
  7. Just before serving, top with the chopped tarragon and garnish with another pinch of salt (sea salt is best).

Although this dish (or some variation) has deep roots in traditional French cuisine, I must pay credit to Thomas Keller for inspiring this version.  He doesn’t use cornichon, but I think he’s missing out.

Pear and Red Beet Salad – Minus the Salad

pear and beet salad Funny story… I prepared this “salad” for an elaborate, multi-course dinner party.  Halfway through chopping the beets, I realized that I forgot to buy lettuce!  My little oversight turned out to be quite an elegant first course.  Try this one out next time you have guests over – just don’t forget any other ingredients!

Makes: 6 guests forget all about greens
Total kitchen time: 10 minutes

Shopping list:

  • 3 ripe Bosc pears, skin on, cleaned well
  • 3 red beets, tops trimmed, skin on
  • 4 Oz. Stilton (a pungent blue cheese)
  • 2 cups candied walnuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (use the best stuff you have)
  • 2 tbsp. aged balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 twists black pepper
  1. Boil the beets in a large pot of water until they are fork-tender, about 25 minutes.  Drain and let the beets cool.  Oh, by the way, you should probably change clothes right about now.  Beets will stain, and you probably don’t want bright red sleeves right before your soirée. 
  2. Peel the beets and chop them into thin slices, as pictured above.  Set aside.
  3. Combine the garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Adjust with salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar if necessary.
  4. Trim the top 1/2 inch off of the pears.  Slice in half from pole to pole.  Use a melon baller or a metal 1 tsp. measure to remove the seeds from each half of the pear.  Remove the bottom stem by cutting a wedge out of the pear with your knife.
    chopping pears
  5. Slice the pears into 1/8″ pieces and arrange five or six slices on a plate.  Pile a small mound of sliced beets, a bit of stilton and some candied walnuts nearby.  Drizzle with the balsamic vinaigrette just before serving.

Now, you could add lettuce back to this recipe, but I don’t think it’s needed.  Have fun with the plating too – create a “tower of pears” or a “nest of beets”.  Your first course will set the mood for the rest of the meal, so have fun with it.  Oh, and don’t forget, uh, what was I saying?