People often ask how I come up with my recipes. This beet salad seems like a perfect example to show you how it works. Welcome to my head!
It all started with leftover cooked beets. After staring at them every time I opened the fridge yesterday, I remembered the beet, prune, and walnut salad of my childhood. The part I didn't like about that salad were the raw beets. I was always curious to try that salad with cooked beets and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. I picked up some prunes and walnuts at the store, chopped them up and added them to my grated beets.
Now the dressing... I didn't want to go the mayo route, and was looking for an alternative. To see where I was with the current mix of flavors, I added some olive oil and salt, then tasted my salad. Flat. It needed acidity. Some vinegar would not be out of place, but I had a better idea. How about pomegranate molasses*? It's a quirky ingredient. You can't throw it around willy-nilly, like preserved lemons. Those taste good on anything (I might draw the line at dessert). Pomegranate molasses are very particular: thick, very tart, barely sweet, and a little nutty. They either make a dish or break a dish. They work exceptionally well with red meats and nuts, but don't work at all with fish and seafood. I knew that pomegranate molasses would hit it off with walnuts right away, and was hoping they'd get along with beets (that's as meaty as vegetables come). I added the molasses and tasted again. I was on the right track. The salad was getting perkier and perkier with each spoon.
Now my salad needed a little sugar for balance. I added it in the form of honey. Taste again. The sweetness/acidity level was now good, but the salad lacked a certain savoriness. I added more salt. Taste again. Better, but still missing something. Onion! How could I forget that?! I minced a shallot and added it to my salad. A red onion would do in a pinch, but a shallot was more appropriate for this delicate salad. Another pinch of salt. Taste again. Yum! This was fabulous.
Creating a dish is like putting together a puzzle. You mess with the pieces until they fit. Taste, taste, and taste some more. Oh, and don't forget the salt. If you are an obsessive recipe follower, try improvising sometimes. You might like it.
This wasn't supposed to be a blog post. This was just supposed to be a way to use up old beets and make lunch while I was at it. But this salad turned out so well, I decided to blog about it to remind myself what I did for next time. While I was taking the pictures, the flavors had a chance to blend and the salad got even better. Next time, I'll make sure to let it sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Unfortunately, I didn't measure anything while I was making this salad. But it's pretty easy to adjust the ingredients to taste.
Beet, Prune, and Walnut Salad
Serves 4 as the first course
2 medium beets (3-4 inches in diameter)
12 pitted prunes, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup minced shallots (2 medium)
1.5 Tbsp pomegranate molasses*
2 tsp honey
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Trim the beets and wash them well, scrubbing the skin, but don't peel. Dry with paper towels. Wrap each beet tightly in foil. Place on a foil lined baking sheet and bake until tender 1.5-2.5 hours. Pierce the beets with a knife through foil to test for doneness. When they are done, the knife should go through them relatively easily, but they'll never get as mushy as potatoes.
- Unwrap the beets and cool until warm. Peel by rubbing with your hands. The skin will come right off.
- Grate the beets on the large holes of a box grater or using the grating disk of a food processor. Cool completely. Beets can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and stored covered in the fridge.
- Add the prunes, walnuts, shallots, mollasses, honey, oil, a generous pinch of salt, and a small pinch of pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more mollasses for acidity, more honey for sweetness, and don't forget the salt or the flavors will be out of focus. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving. Can be stored in the fridge for 2 days.
If finding pomegranate molasses is tricky, you can substitute balsamic vinegar, red or white wine vinegar, or lemon juice. You'll have to play around with the quantities. Start with a few teaspoons, taste, and add more as needed.