Tuesday, August 26, 2014

// S I M P L E S U M M E R, S I M P L E F O O D: beet and fennel salad //

I hated beets up until a couple years ago.  Well, I guess it's more accurate to say that I had never had beets until a couple years ago and just assumed they were a strange vegetable that Dwight K. Schrute from The Office grows in copious amounts and that I didn't like them.  Then a couple years ago (at a restaurant that has sadly closed down) I had beets in delicious salad with arugula and feta. The beets were so earthy, mild, but so unique, tender but not squishy, firm but not crunchy. I was in love. About a year after that I encountered beets again at one of our favorite local spots, this time with arugula and citrus fruit, and the combo blew me away. That was while I was pregnant with Johnny. So that spring, 38 weeks pregnant with a belly the size of a beach ball, I got on my hands and knees in our garden a planted some beets of my own. Just this summer I had another beet salad at one of the vintage bowling places around here (yes, we have more than one of those) that paired beets with another unusual vegetable- fennel bulb-  it was amazing!

The salad that I'm about to share with you is inspired by all three of these salads.  If you've never had beet before I hope you will give them a try, as you don't know what you're missing. And  if you don't like them, please give them a second chance, since maybe the timing wasn't right before.

1 large beet, cooked, cooled and peeled.
1 fennel bulb
1 orange
1/2 grapefruit
a few large handfuls of arugula (or salad green of your choosing)
1 tablespoon salted butter
feta cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

If you've never handled beets before here's a quick guide on how to prepare them. Cut off the stems and the long root and put them in a pot of water. Bring the water to a boil and then boil the beets rapidly for 10-15 minutes.  You should be able to easily insert a fork into the beets. When the beets are done remove from heat and rinse with cold water.  As soon as they are cool enough to handle peel with a paring knife.  Actually, if the beets are cooked right you can just sort of push the skin off of them with your fingers - it's a lot messier, but who doesn't like to have bright-pink-stained hands? I like to cook and peel several beets at once and then have them ready to go in the refrigerator whenever I may need them. They should last about a week after being cooked. Of course, if all of this seems like too much work for you, Trader Joe's sells pre-cooked, pre-peeled beets.

When you've cooked and peeled (or purchased) your beets, cut them into bite-sized pieces.

Trim the stems and the bottom off of the fennel bulb. Cut in half and then cut into thin, half-moon slices. These then go into a frying pan with the butter over medium heat.  Let the fennel fry for about 10 minutes until it's starting to darken and char.

While these are frying you can get started on peeling the orange and grapefruit. Peel with a paring knife, being careful to remove all the pith from the fruit, leaving some of the flesh on the peels. Reserve the peels. Cut both the orange and the grapefruit into thin slices and set aside.

Take a medium salad bowl and squeeze and juice from the orange and grapefruit peels into it. Add the olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper to taste, and whisk to combine. Add your salad greens to the dressing and toss well. Add beets, fennel, orange and grapefruit, give it one gentle toss, then top with crumbled feta and enjoy! 

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