beet, toasted hazelnut & goat cheese salad
Before making this beet, toasted hazelnut & goat cheese salad, I would have never erected a temple to beets.
Now, I am seriously considering getting my girls to help me build a small one in my backyard. Under the guise of building a little sanctuary for coveted fairies…you know, the cute ones with the shimmering wings, magic dust and green little tutus…I’ll elicit their exuberant help and solidify some free labor in the process.
I had no idea that pan-roasting them in olive oil and then adding a splash of balsamic vinegar and sugar would brings out a most incredible crimson-hued savoriness. I think I will have to prepare them this way for a good number of as yet undiscovered dishes because I am now smitten by them and in need of atoning for my – now former – complete and utter ambivalence towards my taproot friends.
Also, before making this salad, I’ve tended to view mint leaves outside of a mojito or a satisfying cup of hot, soothing tea suspiciously. Maybe it’s because I grew up in an Italian household with parents that grew mint in their vegetable garden…just in case. Just in case, that is, anyone needed to do their own share of atoning after indulging in too huge a quantities of lasagna and roasts. That’s all mint was in my childhood… a tonic to cure moments of gluttony.
Well, things are going to change around here.
When combined with herbed goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts, basil leaves and edamame, you see, these pan-toasted beets and mint leaves are simply magical. I am excited at the possibilities.
Finally, given the number of tantalizing ingredients in this salad, it is astounding that each individual flavor somehow manages to have its magical, ‘ta-da!…here I am!’ moment on the palate. But that’s what happens.
One minute I’m tasting the comforting earthy nuttiness of toasted hazelnuts and the next I’m awash with a cool burst of mintiness. A moment later I’m absorbed in the tangy creaminess of goat cheese only to be distracted seconds later by the aromatic pepperiness of delicate basil leaves. And all the while, the edamame is there to offer its chewy base note which, in this salad, functions very much like pasta…which tends to play second fiddle to more savory sauces. It does distinguish itself from pasta with the bright green it brings to the dish.
Hands down, this salad is now one of my all time favorites. It kind of reminds me of a Yotam Ottolenghi creation, but without those exotic black sesame seeds strewn all over it. I suspect he would like it very much. Instead, this salad is slightly adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, which – by the way – I highly recommend. It’s titled Home at 7, Dinner at 8, and it’s by non pretentious British chef Sophie Wright.
I tried Sophie’s version first and loved it but – of course! – I had to make some alterations to make it my own. Honestly, I didn’t change much.
- After cooking the beets with and without the thyme, I found that it became completely overshadowed by the balsamic vinegar and so I couldn’t taste it at all…so I scrapped it even though it does look so pretty in the skillet!
- I cut back on the lemon juice and eliminated the mustard all together, thinking the latter just didn’t inspire me with all the other called-for ingredients.
- I replaced the lima beans she called for with edamame. I found that the lima beans would become slightly bitter and an uninspired shade of pea green after being cooked. Edamame holds up beautifully after being boiled and has that marvelous fierce green that just does not dissipate with heat. Plus, it’s chewier, which I also love.
- Not feeling particularly violent, I decided not to smash those poor unsuspecting edamame with a fork, leaving them to be viciously eaten whole.
- Lastly, feel free to swap out feta cheese for the goat cheese. I’ve tried it both ways and have found the salad equally delicious and satisfying.
So here goes…
making beet, toasted hazelnut & goat cheese salad
Wash 1 lb. of small red beets (about 5) and place them in a microwave-friendly dish.
Add 2 tablespoons of water, cover with clear food wrap, and microwave for 10 minutes.
Once cooled enough to handle, trim the top and bottom of the beets and remove their skins.
Slice them horizontally.
Create 1/4 inch thick medallions.
As the beets cook, place 1/2 cup of whole hazelnuts in a sandwich bag and gently crush them with a rolling pin.
My aim is just to get them to break in half, which is pretty easy to do by just gently tapping on them with the pin.
Transfer them to a skillet that’s been heated on medium high heat and toast them for a few minutes.
They will be done when they become slightly golden in color and when you can smell the most amazing aroma that now emanates from them.
Allow them to cool. Get rid of any pesky broken bits and flakes from the crushing process by transferring them to a colander.
Shake them around for a minute or so, allowing for all those unwanted flakes to escape through the holes. You now have perfect little halves and small pieces of toasted hazelnuts.
In a small jelly jar, add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 ½ tablespoon honey, juice of ½ lemon, and salt and pepper to taste. Close the jar and shake vigorously for a half minute or so to mix everything together.
Pre-heat a frying pan on medium high heat and then add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Arrange the beet slices in the pan in a single layer.
Season with salt. Cook on a high heat for 6 minutes, 3 minutes on each side, until the slices are nice and caramelized on the edges.
Now prepare to be dazzled….cause as soon as you flip the beet slices over, you will see the most amazing crimson color. It’s so gorgeous!!
You may need to stop yourself from wanting to just pop one in your mouth. It just makes me happy when I go through this step.
Now add 1 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 2 generous pinches of sugar. Lower the heat to medium and cook the slices for another 3 minutes. This will allow them to color even more. Remove the slices from the skillet and allow to cool.
Place 1 ½ cups shelled edamame, cooked to package instructions, in a serving bowl. Add 1 handful of shredded mint leaves and the toasted hazelnuts and pour over half of the dressing. Mix well.
Now arrange the cooled caramelized beet slices over the edamame. Add 6 oz. of soft goat cheese in little mounds. Pour over the remaining dressing and decorate with 1 handful of small basil leaves. Makes 8 servings.