Roasting concentrates flavors by concentrating the natural sugars in the food being roasted. You can slow roast, which as the name implies takes a longer time, cooking at a lower temperature, than traditional roasting, which is generally done at a high temperature. Often, roasting at high temperatures caramelizes the sugars in the foods, resulting in browning or even blackened edges. Be careful not to overroast the food, which would be akin to burning or drying out your dish. Vegetables which are most harmonious to roast, are generally those with a high starch content, as opposed to more watery vegetables. You can roast winter squashes, all root vegetables such as turnips, rutebagas, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes & yams, fennel bulbs or even string beans. For those vegetables that are not root vegetables, or for sliced root vegetables, I recommend tossing the sliced up vegetables in a bowl with a light coating of olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper and herbs or spices.
Ingredients: Roasted Beets, Roasted Pecans (or walnuts pictured here), Roasted Ground Fennel Seed, Vinaigrette Served on a bed of Mixed Greens. Optional: Chopped Apples, Rose Water.
Prepare the Beets
Use any variety of Beet, although this recipe works well with the more strongly flavored dark magenta beets. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Trim the leaves on four medium or large beets, leaving about ½ - 1" of stems attached. Do not cut the beets, this will prevent them from 'bleeding' out into the pan. Scrub the beets and dry. Set aside leaves for another dish.* Dry the beets, then place into a lightly oiled oven proof dish and set into the middle rack of the preheated oven. Set the timer for about 1 hour.
(Note: Beets will roast at different times depending on the freshness of the beet, the variety and the season in which they were grown). Winter storage beets, at the end of winter, as we are now, will probably take at least one hour until they are tender, when a fork is inserted. Spring beets or pale & heirloom striped beets, take about 45 minutes to an hour. Of course, small beets will cook in even less time.
Once the beets are cooked, you can set them aside until you are ready to eat, you can chill them for later use, or make the dish right away, and serve them at room temperature. Let them cool enough to handle so you can remove the peel, using a knife to help you trim the ends and pull off the skin. If you are using spring or early summer beets, keep the skins on the beets, as they should be nice and tender.
Roast the Nuts
(This step can be prepared 1-3 days before and stored in a glass jar until ready to use if they last that long!) Roasted nuts are a delicious addition to this salad for both flavor and texture. I recommend pecans or walnuts. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees, and place your nuts in a shallow oven proof dish in a single layer, and place in the middle of the oven. Bake about 15-20 minutes until fragrant. Take the nuts out of the oven, and cool. They should be crunchy and no longer have a 'raw' taste.
Roasted Fennel Seeds
(This can be prepared 1-10 days before and stored in a glass jar until ready to use.) Place a skillet over a medium high heat on the stove, and sprinkle in your fennel seeds. Keep moving the skillet over the heat, or use a wooden spoon to keep the seeds moving, until you smell their fragrance and they are very lightly browned. Be careful, it's easy to burn delicate seeds. This should take no more than a minute or two at the most.
Then pour the seeds onto a dish, to stop them from cooking. If they burn, throw them out and start over, using a lower heat until you get the hang of it. I love to keep several varieties of roasted spices on hand to freshly grind into a finished dish, or add depth to a dish still cooking. Try roasting cumin or allspice in addition to fennel. A worthwhile investment would be a mortar and pestle to grind up your roasted spices, but it is not necessary for this recipe, although grinding the roasted spice is easy and it enhances the flavor. If you have made extra for the pantry, store the seeds, when they have cooled in glass jars with lids.
Assemble Your Beet Salad
Make sure you have your vinaigrette prepared, or oil and vinegar or lemon on hand. Chop or slice your beets and place into a bowl. Toss with your vinaigrette or with a few tablespoons of good cold pressed organic olive oil and 1/2 freshly squeezed lemon or 1/2 Tablespoon of good organic cider vinegar or any vinegar of your choice. I recommend cider vinegar, rice wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Add a splash of rose water (optional) and sprinkle the ground or whole roasted fennel seed. Toss beets. Then toss your salad greens in a serving bowl, make a well in the center into which you place your dressed beets. Garnish generously with roast pecans or walnuts. You can also add chopped up apples to this salad, green apples make a nice contrast to the red beets, but only if you add them at the end, like the nuts.
* Use any mixed greens for this salad. You can also use chopped Napa Cabbage or even slightly cooked greens such as those beet greens you put aside, any green cabbage, collards, kale or other hearty greens. You can also use Asian greens for a raw salad base. This dish would also be good served on top of tabouli wheat, quinoa, brown rice or another cooked grain of your choice.
Give thanks and enjoy this delicious and colorful salad in good health with our blessings from Satya Center!
Health Benefits of Beets
Beets have gotten a bad rap, possibly because of canned beets being the only beet experience many people have, either as a ubiquitous addition to the ill conceived 'salad bar' or because it has been boiled to death by someone's grandmother or mother, who told you to eat your beets because they're good for you. Actually, it was after I fed family members roast beets from our Roxbury Farm CSA, that the teens and even their parents, admitted to disliking beets, or at best being wary of them, until trying the roasted Roxbury beet salad I made them.
Beets are high in iron, which is what gives them their red color, being good for those who are anemic. They are thermally neutral, strengthening the heart and vascular system, they purify the blood & treat liver ailments including a stagnant liver (which many westerners have as a result of an overly rich diet). Beets are an aid for constipation lubricating the intestines and according to Paul Pitchford, when combined with carrots, are an aid for women during menopause by regulating hormones. Beets are incredibly sweet, in fact beet sugar is still manufactured from a white variety of beets, for commercial sweeteners. Beet Greens, are best eaten in moderation because of their high oxalic acid content.
And if you are truly enamored of the beet, as Curtis and I are, you may even want to read the book by Tom Robbins called "Jitterbug Perfume" who's first protagonist you will meet, is alas, the beet!
(The roast beet salad in this photo is placed upon a bed of lightly sauteed Napa cabbage, still retaining it's crunch. Photos by Jane Sherry)