Just Beet It

When it comes to food, I like to think I’m relatively adventurous and open to try most anything at least once. Granted, I’m no Andrew Zimmern – I do have some minimal boundaries and some basic common sense, for crying out loud – but for the most part, I try to be open-minded and brave in my culinary pursuits. That being said, there are a few things out there that no matter how hard I try, I just can’t like. For instance: beets. Go ahead, laugh all you want at my aversion to this seemingly innocuous root vegetable, but to me, beets taste like… well, they taste like dirt. And no, I don’t mean in the “earthy” sense – I mean actual dirt. And who willingly eats dirt? (Besides Andrew Zimmern, I’m guessing…) Not me. That is, until recently.

Farmers’ Market Beets

Two weekends ago, the girls and I took our annual jaunt to Las Vegas for a long weekend of debauchery and excess. The scorching, searing, oh-but-it’s-a-dry-heat temperatures didn’t keep us at bay. We danced, we drank, we shopped, we sunbathed, we gambled and we ate some really, REALLY amazing food. One of the restaurants we visited was Botero at Encore. The dim lights, ultra chic atmosphere and seamless service must have boosted our bravery, because several of the girls ordered items outside of their comfort zone – including a baby beet salad ordered by one other beet cynic in our group. With baby red and yellow beets, warmed goat cheese and a light pesto dressing, the salad wooed us all as we passed it around the table. I brought my newfound fondness of beets back to Arkansas, determined to recreate the salad at home.

Pesto and Pecans

Saturday morning, I visited the Farmers’ Market in search of baby beets. As I was finishing my first lap around, I began to get discouraged, thinking it was too late in the season for such a thing. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon a stand with baby red beets. “I’ll take the smallest ones you’ve got!”, I said enthusiastically, and was quickly on my way home to attempt my Botero recreation.

I started by roasting the beets in a tinfoil satchel for about an hour, until the skins peeled off easily with minimal pressure from my thumb and forefinger. I’d made a goat cheese pesto with some basil from my garden back in late August, and froze it in ice cube trays; I took out a few cubes, thawed them out and used them as my salad dressing, adding a little vinegar to form a vinaigrette. After adding some warm goat cheese and salted pecans at the very end, I enjoyed my first ever beet creation for lunch Saturday afternoon. More “inspired” by Botero’s salad than an exact replica, this dish is great for a light lunch or as a first course with dinner. If goat cheese isn’t your thing, try blue cheese or gorgonzola; you can also replace the pecans with toasted walnuts or pine nuts. Enjoy!

Baby Beet Salad

10-12 baby beets (red, yellow or a mix),
washed and dried
3 oz. goat cheese
1/4 c. toasted, salted pecans
3 Tbs. favorite pesto
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
olive oil
favorite salad greens

Preheat the oven to 375°. Rinse and dry the beets. Place the beets on a large piece of aluminum foil, drizzle them with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap the foil up around the beets, like a satchel. Roast in the oven for about an hour, until a sharp knife inserts into the beets easily. Remove the beets from the oven and allow to cool.

Peeling Beets

In a small mixing bowl, combine the pesto and red wine vinegar using a whisk. Set the mixture aside.

Under cool running water, gently remove the cooled beets’ skins using slight pressure with your thumb – the skin should slide right off. Remove the root tip and the stem tip with a paring knife, and halve each beet. Place the skinned, halved beets in a medium mixing bowl and toss them with 1 Tbs. of the pesto dressing.

In a small microwave safe bowl, heat the goat cheese until just warm, about 10-15 seconds. Toss the remaining pesto dressing with the salad greens and top the salad with the beets, warmed goat cheese and pecans. Serve immediately.

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Laura Hobbs is a guest contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. Born and raised in Fayetteville, Laura is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, visit her author page.