Last summer I spent a week in Colorado. While the mountains were beautiful, I was more impressed with the restaurants and the food (except for my solar-oven baked cornbread, but that's another story). Friends introduced me to Ethiopian food. I ate some amazing Thai dumplings, and I discovered that I love beets. The dish that really stands out, however, was a simple Salad Nicoise.
Back home, on a recent trip to the farmers' market, I realized that they had almost everything I needed to make a variation of my newfound favorite salad. Due to laziness, I usually prefer salads made by other people, so I asked myself if I really wanted to wash, peel and chop ingredients. This time, the answer was yes.
Salad Nicoise is a hearty French salad that typically consists of lettuce surrounded by potatoes, green beans, eggs and olives. The whole thing is then topped off with capers, anchovies and tuna. I, of course, had to play with the recipe. Asparagus is coming into season—why not use that instead of the beans? I don't like canned tuna, and when I try to cook fresh tuna it comes out rubbery, so I asked myself, "Why not save the money and just omit it altogether?"
Beets! The salad needs roasted beets! Here is the recipe for my take on the salad:
Kinda Salad Nicoise
1 head of lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces, or the equivalent in salad greens
4 new potatoes, quartered
1 bundle asparagus, blanched or roasted
3-4 eggs, hard-boiled and halved
1 large beet, roasted and cubed
Kalamata olives (or whatever variety looks good at the olive bar)
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (or whatever brown mustard on hand)
1 teaspoon tarragon
Mix together dressing ingredients and set aside.
Begin roasting beets according to directions below.
Boil potatoes until tender, but not mushy, about 15 minutes.
Mix lettuce or salad greens with dressing and place on a plate. Add remaining items, but don't toss with the lettuce. Mix the flavors as you eat, don't meld all of them together initially.
Dig in and enjoy!
It took me several tries to roast beets successfully. My first few attempts left me with a side dish that basically tasted like sweetened dirt—not a good addition to any meal. I finally got it right by ignoring all the directions I found. Here's my method:
Put beets on foil and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the foil around the beets and put on a cookie sheet. Roast at 400 degrees for about 60 to 80 minutes. To test for doneness, stick a fork in a beet; if the fork goes in easily, it's done.
Remove beets from oven and unwrap. Run cold water over the beets until they're easy to handle and peel off the skins. They should come off fairly easily, but you may have to use a knife for one or two small sections.