I’m beginning to notice that beets are featured quite often around here. It’s not intentional, but I do eat a lot of beets and usually pick up a couple of bunches each week at the farmers market. I prefer to oven roast them – stems and leaves removed, lightly rubbed with olive oil and wrapped in foil – just until a knife easily pierces them. The gentle push of my thumb against the cooled skins lets them easily slide off to reveal the burgundy-red interior, and my stained fingertips are back to normal with a few hand washes. No big deal. It’s become a weekly ritual. Most often, the roasted beets find their way into salads or side dishes and any remnants sit, briefly, in the refrigerator before becoming a snack for yours truly.
A few months back, I featured a recipe for Hasselback-style roasted beets with orange and shallot sauce. It’s a combination I find myself drawn to again and again. But recently, I found that beets and kumquats are even better. I discovered this when my friend from Ojai brought me nearly 2 pounds of kumquats and I started putting them to use in as many ways as possible. She introduced me to sliced kumquats in my vinaigrette-dressed green salads last summer. If you have never done this, you must. It is and unexpected delight and it became the inspiration for this salad.
Kumquats, with their tart flesh and sweet, intensely orange-flavored skins are in season right now. There is something unmistakably right about eating fruits and vegetables in season. Their flavors are unsurpassed, the price is usually at its lowest and there is a natural rhythm that seems to lure the food and the cook together at that moment in time. This is something I have come to appreciate and it has become the essence of my cooking.
I chose to utilize the all-too-often discarded beet greens as the base for this salad. It surprises me when the vendors who run one of the stands at my farmers market ask me if I’d like the beet greens trimmed; what a waste. The greens are delicious raw or cooked, and I often give them a quick chop and add to them to salads or briefly saute them. In this instance, I wilted them by quickly adding the roughly chopped greens to a pot of boiling, salted water. They were removed almost as quickly as they were added and immediately plunged into a bowl of icy water. If you have beets growing in your garden, save the smaller seedlings when you thin them (to give the bigger seedlings room to expand). The younger, more tender greens – stems and all – can be used without having to go through the blanching process.
This salad is the epitome of fresh, honest cooking, and I use the term cooking very loosely here. When simple in-season ingredients are simply prepared, the food can essentially be what it is and taste as pure as its own given flavor. A skill set really isn’t a requirement; nature takes care of that for you. It’s the harmony that exists between the ingredients, the cook and the time of year that make a salad like this so easy to pull off.
Loaded with good-for-you vitamins and minerals, beet greens can be added to any salad or they can be the star of their own.
- 4 medium beets with stems and greens attached, greens rinsed well and coarsely chopped
- 6-8 kumquats, stemmed, sliced and seeded
- 1/3 cup purple onion, sliced thinly
- Flaked sea salt (such as Maldon)
- scant 1/3 cup champagne or red wine vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, pressed through a garlic press
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon honey, or to taste
- To roast the beets, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Trim stems from beets and set aside. Set each beet on a piece of foil, rub a small amount of olive oil onto each beet, wrap in foil, place onto a baking sheet and put in oven for 60 to 90 minutes, depending on size. Beets are done when a knife can easily pierce without resistance. Let beets cool and peel. Cut beets into wedges and place in a bowl or refrigerate if not used right away.
- Remove the stems from the beet greens. Discard stems and roughly chop the beet greens.
- Bring a medium sized pot of water up to a boil. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the boiling water.
- Carefully add the chopped beet greens all at once making sure to completely submerge. The greens will begin to wilt instantly and should be removed within 2 minutes with a handled strainer or spider and placed into a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process.
- Using your hands, move the greens around in the icy water to make sure all pieces are cooled.
- Drain cooled greens and squeeze by the handful to remove excess water.
- Place greens in bowl with the beets.
- Add sliced onions.
- To make the vinaigrette pour vinegar into bowl and add garlic. Slowly add olive oil and whisk until combined. Add honey.
- Lightly dress the beets, onion and greens to taste. Add the sliced kumquats, quickly toss, sprinkle lightly with flaked sea salt and serve immediately.
Recipe makes more vinaigrette than needed for the salad, Can be stored in refrigerator for at least 1 week.
Total time does not include cooling time for roasted beets.
Beets can be roasted and peeled a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Vinaigrette can be made ahead and kept in refrigerator until ready to use. The recipe makes more than you will need and can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days at least.
I have a photo tutorial of the process used to wilt greens from a previous post. I used Swiss chard then but the process is the same. (Warning: It's one of my early posts. Changes have been made to the site since then, and there are some alignment issues.)
I prefer to slice the onion in half through the root end. Lay the onion on its flat side and cut in half horizontally. Then make vertical, sliver-type cuts. I like the way the slivers are more uniform and you don't have to chase around varying lengths of onion. I'm picky that way.
The kumquats will immediately begin to take on the beet color once the salad is tossed. Do not add them until ready to serve.
The only dislike - if you can really call it that - I had with this salad was the effect the beet greens had on my teeth. I can only describe it as slightly fuzzy - not bad, just noticeable and short lived. It wouldn't stop me from making the salad again.