In which Marion capitalizes on Terry’s belated revelation that beets are delicious, especially in this Roasted Beet Salad with Oranges and Blue Cheese. Recipe below.
The cauliflower soup Terry posted last week began as a tuna sandwich, and this roasted beet salad began as a trip to New York City. Our friend Laura and I were traipsing around town, a few years back, on a trip that included a lot of food and a lot of conversation about food. In the course of it all, we went into Zabar’s—me to look for various gifts, and Laura to look for pomegranate molasses for a stew she wanted to try. I had never heard of pomegranate molasses before, and I filed it in my head, alongside sumac and boldo, for future reference. That event—learning about something brand new and potentially marvelous in the company of a great friend—became an emblem of that wonderful trip.
Then, this fall, we seemed to keep buying a lot of wonderful beets, many of them from the farmers market in our neighborhood here in Logan Square, and whenever we turned the oven on for more than a half hour I would stick in a pan with a few beets.
In the course of all this roasting of beets, we began experimenting with different ways to include them in salads—with vinaigrettes, with creamy dressings, with various fruits, with cheese, without cheese. I was browsing among recipes when pomegranate molasses reappeared. There are a surprising number of beet salads that rely on this syrup. Brown and dense, the thing it is closest to isn’t molasses but balsamic vinegar—it has the same sweet profound acidity. Pomegranate molasses is an essential ingredient in Middle Eastern cookery and, in fact, this winter I intend to try a Turkish recipe for eggplant lentil stew that includes this ingredient.
The first pomegranate molasses dressing recipe I seriously committed to called for roasted beets, blood oranges, red onions, pomegranate molasses and pomegranate seeds. It sounded wonderful! I love pomegranate seeds! I love beets!
Well, it was awful. In that context, the pomegranate seeds were really, really annoying. It was kind of like chewing tiny, tangy pine cone scales. I kept looking at my plate in disbelief: How could something so pretty be so terrible? We had to keep trying.
In the end, after a number of experiments, this was the recipe that worked the best and, naturally, it was the easiest to create. After all the following of recipes, this one came together nearly on its own.
For this version, we happened to have golden beets, but this would also be terrific and beautiful with red-orange beets or good ol’ red beets. Once you have all the parts, you can put this together very quickly. It is wonderful alongside a simply prepared main dish, or it would be a super first course. The sweet tanginess of the dressing, the earthiness of the beets, the pungent blue cheese, the orange: all an intense, rich harmony. This one is a natural.
Roasted Beet Salad with Oranges and Blue Cheese
4 roasted beets, thoroughly chilled—peeled and sliced [about 2 cups—directions for roasting beets in Kitchen Notes]
1 navel orange, peeled, the segments separated, then cut into thirds
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon ponzu [see Kitchen Notes]
3 or 4 tablespoon blue cheese, crumbled [see Kitchen Notes]
a good grating of black pepper
Put the sliced beets and oranges into a serving bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate molasses, olive oil and ponzu. Don’t add salt! There is plenty of sodium in the ponzu, and the blue cheese will be fairly salty too.
Pour the dressing over the beets and oranges and lightly stir to combine. Add the blue cheese and gently toss. Grate black pepper over everything, toss lightly and serve.
Bundle your energy use. If we are, say, baking something, we will often be roasting something else at the same time.
Beet it. Select medium-sized beets, cut off any green tops, and wash them. Then coat with olive oil, place them in a baking dish, and roast at 375ºF. It will take about 75 to 90 minutes. The nice thing about yellow beets and red-orange beets is that they don’t stain your hands when you peel them.
Blue cheese. For this, we used the last of that wonderful Roaring 40s cheese from Australia. This would be good with Maytag or Stilton too; in California, I would try Point Reyes blue, and in New England, I would try Great Hill. Select something on the dryer side that crumbles well, rather than something on the wet and sticky side.
Ponzu? Ponzu is a very tart citrus-based Japanese sauce. It looks like pale-yellow vinegar and it is very lemony in taste. If you can’t find it, don’t substitute orange juice [as some recipes suggest]. Use lemon juice.
Interestingly the word ponzu derives from the Japanese word for vinegar, zu, and the Dutch word for both a citrus orchard and the juice of its fruit, pons—which would have passed into usage in Japan in the 18th century. When I think about the global narrative that is so much a part of our lives today, I try to remind myself that it is far from new—it is as old as humanity.