Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Beets, Neeps, & "Beauty Heart"

A salad which I offer not so much for contemplation of its refined perfection, but as example and inspiration to those looking for new ways to approach the vegetables of a northern winter. All these beautiful roots--red and chioggia beets, turnips of various hues, "Beauty Heart" radishes (as well as spanish black and daikon)--have been available from local farms (sold at the co-ops) until very recently.

Salads using cooked beets, whether roasted or boiled, are of course quite common. And then it occured to me, looking at a recipe from my Alsatian cookbook for leftover pot au feu ingredients tossed in a vinaigrette, that we might be able to take other winter roots, roast them, and go straight to salad.

This was certainly beautiful, and simple, and good to eat. Don't overcook the turnip or radish--it surprised me that they cooked so much more quickly than the beets, and they'll turn mushy if overcooked. Beets, it seems, can take any amount of cooking and hold together. Turnips and radishes (which I've come to think of as simply spicy turnips) are both in that cruciferous, cabbage family, and they'll have that overcooked-cabbage smell if roasted too long.

I used aromatic French walnut oil in this salad, from
J. LeBlanc et Fils, specifically. Locally I've noticed this same oil at Cooks of Crocus Hill and at Whole Foods. It's a bit pricy (around $20 for eight ounces), but a little goes a long way--I'm nearing the end of the bottle we picked up in Paris, over two years ago! Time to use it up; it has remained very fragrant, with no sign of turning rancid, kept in the fridge that long time.

Do note that this is the dark walnut oil, as opposed to the light oil commonly available. The light oil has little aroma, but could be used in this salad, as could olive or grapeseed. Garnish with some toasted chopped walnuts, if you like.

Salad of Mixed Roasted Roots

2 small beets, one red, one chioggia
1 small turnip, any color
1 "Beauty Heart" radish, tennis-ball size
1 Tbsp apple syrup* (or 1 Tbsp mellow apple cider vinegar mixed with 1/4 tsp sugar)
1 Tbsp walnut oil
a squeeze of lemon juice, optional
good pinch salt
ground black pepper to taste

Place the root vegetables in a covered baking dish and roast at 400 F until they pierce easily with a paring knife. They will cook at different times: the turnip will probably be done first, in about 30 minutes; the beets will likely take 10 minutes more, and the radish another 10 minutes. Peel the vegetables when cool, cut into roughly 3/4-inch chunks, toss with the dressing ingredients.

We served it with a few green leaves and a lump of rillettes de porc, country pork paté (recipe for that next time).


The local-foods tally: All local except the walnut oil, salt and pepper, and lemon juice.

Pastures A Plenty pork shoulder, Kerkhoven, Minnesota
--Beets, turnips, and radish all from
Harmony Valley Farm , Viroqua, Wisconsin
--Salad greens, Our Sunporch
--Apple syrup from our own apple cider

* Apple syrup is a tart-sweet condiment made by boiling apple cider down until reduced by three-quarters, e.g., start with 2 cups cider, boil until just one-half cup remains. Stored in the fridge it will keep indefinitely, and can be used in place of flavorful vinegars in dressings, sauces, or marinades. It is not as acidic as most vinegars, so you may need to add a little oomph in the form of a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of wine or cider vinegar.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

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