Today I’m sharing a recent salad I made to go with our dinner. Using farm fresh ingredients, I created this Roasted Beet Salad with Pomegranate Dressing. Sometimes – ok most of the time – when I’m cooking I am very free from. By that I mean that I don’t have a strict recipe with strict measurements. Instead I have a sense of what I want to achieve and I create it on the fly.
Oh, yes. I’ve been in situations where strict adherence to a recipe is required. And of course I can do that. In fact I’m my early days of cooking that is what I did most of the time. But now it is different. Mostly I think of what I do as a form of artistic expression that relies on less on a script and more on ad lib.
Every week, when I post my dish, I include a recipe. I have taken the time to get a pretty close measure of the amounts I use in any given recipe. I understand that is a necessary way to covey the essence of what I am sharing.
Ultimately though I think of my recipe more as a guideline and not an iron clad instruction. More like jazz musicians sharing basics such as the key, the tempo, and the chords. Probably even a basic melody line. But no two jazz musicians take those guidelines and create the same sound. Sure – the song will be familiar, but the feeling is totally different.
Recipes as Guidelines
I know it is a guideline because I can’t know EXACTLY what all of you like. I believe strongly that some of you like more salt that I do, for example, and some of you like less. Maybe you’re not fond of oregano and think I use too much. Maybe you love tarragon and think I use too little. The thing is, I can’t be know exactly what all of you want. In fact, I am counting on you to adapt the recipe to your particular liking.
If you want to grow in the kitchen, you will need to get comfortable adapting recipes. Probably best to start with small adaptations, like changing the amounts on a spice. But you’ll eventually progress to bigger adaptions like swapping out lamb for beef. Maybe even get to your own combining of recipes. Like using the stuffing from that recipe with the veggies from this one.
If you are already on that path – great! This blog is for you. As I said, I count on you doing that with my recipes. Make them your own.
If you aren’t there yet, and looking for a place to start, well today’s entry is for you. Salads are a great place to experiment. There are no real ‘rules’ for salads — nobody can tell you how many slices of cucumber a ‘right’ on a salad. Or even if cucumber is necessary. You put as much on as you like.
Your Chance to Adapt an Imprecise Recipe
With the Roasted Beet Salad with Pomegranate Molasses Dressing, you have a perfect opportunity to try your hand a working with a ‘loose’ recipe. The idea started for me when I made one of my usual weekly visits to Grant Family Farm. We grabbed ‘a bunch’ of beets. These aren’t your perfectly round, perfectly sized, tepidly flavored grocery store beets. No — these are packed with flavor as fresh as it gets. But they are also much more rustically assembled. The beets weren’t perfectly round, and the weren’t all the same size. And that was more than OK with me.
I love the combination of sweet beets with slightly sour pomegranate molasses. You might remember last summer’s foray into this combination. It is a great way to add fresh, healthy and delicious beets to your summer table. Fresh beets are high in nutrition, flavor, and versatility. They are low calorie while packing a big nutritious punch. They are high in fiber, iron and many of the other vitamins we need daily.
The bunch of beets I got ranged in size from as small as an olive up to maybe golfball sized. Perfect. In my view, the bigger the beet, the less sweet and flavorful they are. Those baseball and softball sized ones you can find at the grocery store don’t usually excite me. These farm fresh beets were exactly what I wanted! The bunch was large enough to feed the two of us. If I were feeding more, I would have grabbed a second bunch.
Cooking the Beets
To get started on the roasted beet salad, you have to cook the beets. To cook them, I roasted them which is remarkably easy, and happily imprecise. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. While the oven is preheating, prepare the beets. Trim the greens off leaving about 1/4 inch to a 1/2 inch (1/2 cm – 1 cm) of stems. Rinse the beets under cold water. Place them all in a roasting pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle them with a tablespoon or two of olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Roll them around in the pan until the beets are more or less evenly coated with oil and spices.
Next add a little bit of water, about enough to be a 1/4 inch(1/2 cm) of water in the bottom of your pan. This is an example of an ‘imprecise’ measurement for this recipe. I have no idea how much water that is for you since I don’t know how big your pan is or how much space the beets take up in the pan. So my best guideline is add enough to be about a 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) of water. And no need to take out your ruler to measure. The measure is approximate.
Cover the top of the pan with foil, and crimp around the edges to make a tight seal on your pan. Slide the beets in the oven, and set your time for an hour. While the beets are cooking, you can prepare the rest of the salad.
And about those greens you trimmed off? The make quite a good pesto. If you’d prefer, they also saute up nicely with a little bit of chopped garlic.
The Rest of the Salad
For my Roasted Beet Salad, I added lettuce, candied pecans and cheese, and of course the Pomegranate Molasses Dressing. That is it. Really a simple, basic salad. Of course, you can swap it all out or add a whole range of foods. Perhaps you have spinach on hand instead of lettuce. Fine — go ahead and use it. Perhaps you prefer walnuts or pistachios to pecans. Go for it.
For me, I would normally use either feta or ricotta salad as a cheese, but I had neither on hand. What I had was some fresh mozzarella. So I adapted and improvised. I diced the mozzarella up fine and used it in place of the other cheeses.
As for how much of each – well that’s up to you. Is the salad a side or a main dish? I would use less of everything if it were a side. As a main, I would include more. Mine was a side to some koftas that I made, but that was our whole dinner. Koftas and salad. So I went somewhere in between main and side sized. The point is, use enough of everything to suit the need you have.
I didn’t measure it, but I probably used about three cups of lettuce. Roughly chopped. The lettuce was fresh from Grant Family Farm too. So it was nice and crisp!. I also didn’t’ really measure the nuts or mozzarella, but I would say I probably used about a quarter cup of each.
Candied Pecans — A quick and easy “upgrade”
For the pecans, I candied them. Sounds fancy, but a relatively easy process. Basically, you coat the beets in a simple syrup and let the water evaporate away, leaving a sweet crunchy pecan piece behind. The sweetness is a nice complement to the sweet beets. Strictly it is not necessary and you can skip this altogether if you’d like. Or you can equally as easily candy whatever nut you might use instead of pecans.
While the beets roasted, I heated a small saute pan over medium high heat. I added the pecans and toasted them for about two minutes. No, I didn’t use a timer. Then I added a couple of teaspoons of water, and about a tablespoon of granulated sugar. I swirled it all around in the pan — the sugar absorbed into the water, and together they coated the pecan pieces with a candied syrup. The whole thing took less than 5 minutes. I let them cool on a plate until the beets were ready.
Finish the Beets
Your are almost done with your Roasted Beet Salad. When the timer goes off, remove the roasting pan from the oven. Carefully remove the foil (don’t get burned by the steam) and let the beets rest for just a couple of minutes, but not too long. They peel easiest while still a bit warm. Also, save any liquid in the bottom of the pan — this will be the base of your dressing.
You need to be careful when peeling the beets because they will stain anything they touch. This is not a time to be wearing a nice white shirt that you love. Wear an apron, use kitchen gloves if you got them, and just generally be careful about where the beets and their peels touch.
I used the foil sheet that was the lid to my pan as a place to catch my beet peels. I removed the beets one by one from the roasting pan, and peeled them over the foil, then put the beet back in the pan.
To peel the beets, pinch of the piece of stem you left earlier, and any ‘root tail’ from the bottom side of the beet. That will leave some exposed edges of peel you can firmly rub off. The peels should mostly slide off, but there will be a few spots that stick. Use the tip of a small knife to scrape those bits away. The peeled beets will be glossy and shiny and very easy to distinguish from the unpeeled beets.
Make the Dressing
Once the beets are peeled, you can let them cool while you make the dressing. This is really so easy. Take the liquid you received from cooking the beets. It will probably be just about a tablespoon or two — not much, but you don’t need much. I put mine in a small jar that once held capers that I save for making dressings on the fly. Use whatever you have handy — a small bowl, a measuring cup, 8 oz mason jar. Pour in the beet liquid, then add approximately the same amount of pomegranate syrup. Shake it up or whisk it up, and there you go. Pomegranate dressing.
Cut the beets into whatever size pieces you want for your salad, and toss with the dressing you just made. Grab a your lettuce, pecans, and cheese and add them altogether with the beets. There you go. Done. Not a lot of fancy measuring, cutting or other prep. A little kitchen trickery candying the nuts. Easy.
I will leave you with a Roasted Beet Salad recipe card below, but it truly is a guideline and it won’t be as detailed as some of mine are. If you like trying your hand at adapting a recipe, a few more that works well with include Watermelon Salad with Ricotta Salata, Sweet Corn Salad, and Red Snapper Salad.
Roast Beet Salad with Pomegranate Molasses Dressing
- 1 Bunch Fresh Beets trimmed and rinsed
- 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 3 cups lettuce roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped pecans
- 1 TBS water
- 1 TBS granulated sugar
- 1 TBS diced fresh mozzarella cheese
- 1 TBS Pomegranate Syrup or Molasses
- Preheat oven to 350F/180C
- Place beets in shallow baking dish
- Add extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Toss around in the pan until beets are evenly coated
- Cover pan tightly with foil and bake in oven for about 1 hour, or until a sharp knife easily slides into the largest beet
- While beets are cooking, heat a small saute pan over medium high heat
- Add pecan pieces and toast for about 3 minutes, gently shaking the pan two or three times to prevent burning.
- Add water and sugar, and stir to coat pecan pieces
- Remove from heat and continue stirring until all water is gone
- When beets come out of the oven, set aside any liquid in the bottom of the pan
- Peel beets and then let cool
- Place reserved beet liquid to a small measuring cup. Add about as much pomegranate syrup as there is reserved water. Whisk together
- Cut the beet pieces then toss with the Pomegranate dressing
- Combine beets, lettuce, nuts and cheese in a bowl and toss together.
- Serve cool or at room temperature.