Beet Salad With Hearts of Palm, Manchego And Sweet Pickled Onions
I would like to go to Spain. I would also like to go to France, Austria, Portugal, Turkey, India, Greece, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Lebanon, Syria and the UAE…in no particular order. It’s been almost two years since the last time that Mike and I went on vacation, and our last trip was not to somewhere sophisticated and European, exotic and South East Asian, or sultry and Mediterranean. Our last trip was to Thunder Bay, Ontario. No kidding.
We were planning to go away early last year, and then our wee kitty (may the feline gods bless her soul) got very ill, and instead of going to Paris we spent $3,000 on vet bills. Sigh. Then we decided to go away in the summer or fall of 2008, but I got shipped off to Pakistan (work related) for a month and then we bought a house. Really, the fates have not been conducive to traveling. BUT!! This year, I am determined. This will be the year, come hell or high water (hopefully neither, mind you) that we get on a plane and jettison ourselves off this continent, at least for a while.
In the mean time, the closest that I come to seeing the world is through my stomach. Dinner at our house brings us to many places, from the Far East to the Midwest. Through mouth and spirit we celebrate Morocco, Lebanon, India, Hong Kong, Mexico, the Caribbean, and anywhere else that we can imagine into being, at least on the table. Lately, I’ve been getting urges for the warm, ripe flavors of the Mediterranean. Fruity olive oils, salty cheeses, pungent vinegars, rustic fare….oh yes. That’s what I’m after.
This salad is Spanish inspired, albeit not exactly traditional Spanish fare. I can’t say that beets never show up in Spanish cuisine, but I would definitely note that they aren’t particularly common. The thing is, we have a 10 kg bag of beets to work our way through, and you can only have so many apple and beet, orange and beet, or maple glazed beet salads. Oh yeah, and I wanted SPAIN.
Manchego is arguably the most famous Spanish cheese, imported from La Mancha. Its a semi-ripe sheep milk cheese, with a delightfully complex and slightly salty flavor. The texture is firm but still creamy and not granular, with a slightly chewy tooth. Manchego production is highly regulated and protected by its Denominación de Origen, which means that generally the Manchego cheese that you find in the West is going to be fairly consistent without much variance. If you can’t find Manchego, Oaxaca Fresca, Cabrales, Pecorino Romano, or even Gruyere will work in a pinch.
What I love about Spanish cuisine is the balance of creamy, chewy, salty, crunchy, subtle and bold – and this salad has those elements written from cover to cover. The delicate crunch of celery contrasts with the rich, sweet and earthy beets. Hearts of palm are delicate and rich, in contrast with the vinegary sweet onions and salty, chewy Manchego. With a simple vinaigrette and some fresh baby greens, this is a salad that begs for bold red wine and outdoor dining….or indoor dining and dreams of a Mediterranean vacation which will hopefully happen some day.
Beet Salad With Hearts of Palm, Manchego And Sweet Pickled Onions
Serves 4 as an lunch salad, 6 as an appetizer
- 5 medium beets
- olive oil to drizzle (about 1 tbsp)
- salt and pepper
- 2 large stalks of celery
- 150 g Manchego cheese (slightly over 1 cup when diced) *
- 1 can (19 oz) hearts of palm **
- 5 oz (140 g) mixed greens
Quick sweet pickled onions:
- 1/2 red onion
- 1.5 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 large (or 2 small) clove garlic
- 1/3 cup sherry vinegar
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- small bunch parsley (about 1/4 cup when chopped)
- salt to taste
* If you can’t find Manchego cheese, feel free to use one of the substitutions above. A semi-ripe sheep milk cheese will be your closest bet.
** Why are these called ‘hearts of palm’ and not ‘palm hearts’? If we started calling them palm hearts, would that be okay?
Preheat your oven to 400ºF.
Scrub any dirt and residue off of your beets but leave them whole for the time being. Measure out a fairly long piece of tin foil (about the length of your arm) and lay the beets on top. Drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then fold the tinfoil up tight to make a fully sealed package.
Put the parcel-o-beets onto a baking sheet and cook them in the center of the oven for about an hour, flipping the package over halfway through so that they can cook evenly. Check on the beets after an hour by unwrapping the package and doing a fork test – they should be tender enough to be pierced easily with the tines.
As soon as the beets go into the oven, get started on the pickled onions as these will benefit enormously by having some extra time to marinate. Mix together the salt, sugar and red wine vinegar. I really couldn’t tell you why I did this in a bowl, considering that 15 seconds later I transferred the liquid to a flat, shallow container that made a lot more sense….maybe I just like wreaking some extra dish havoc for Mike to clean up in my wake.
Thinly slice half of a red onion into rounds, each one no more than 1/8 inch thick. Lay the slices into a flat, shallow dish and pour the vinegar mixture over them. Let this sit at room temperature for about an hour, turning the pieces over occasionally to make sure that every ring has a chance to soak on both sides.
Grate or press the garlic into a medium sized bowl and add the sherry vinegar. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly as you do, until everything is combined and you have a homogenous dressing. Season with salt to taste – I used about 1/2 tsp of finely ground kosher salt.
When the beets are cooked, unwrap them and let the ruby gems cool slightly before peeling and cutting off the tip and the woody stem end. You probably want to wear gloves when you do this, unless your intention is to look like you spent all afternoon in a finger-painting date with Carrie.
Slice the beets into 1/4 inch rounds and toss them with 1/4 cup of the dressing, reserving the rest. The dressing will permeate into the beets delightfully since they’re still warm.
Cut the tops and bottoms off of the celery, and slice the ribs wafer thin into little translucent green crescents.
Slice the hearts of palm into rounds, each one about 1/3 of an inch thick.
Finely chop the small bunch of parsley. There should be about 1/4 cup. Add this to the reserved dressing.
For the salad, divide your beets up among the plates and lay them in a large circle going around the circumference. Mix the greens with the celery and toss gently with about 1/2 cup of the dressing. Heap a pile of the greens in the center of each beet ring. Top the greens with a few slices of the sweet pickled onion, some Manchego and palm hearts. Drizzle the rest of the dressing on the beets. Finally, grab a nice glass of Rioja. And yes please, one for me too, if you’re offering….
Did I mention that I love cheese? I do, and Manchego is no exception. I also love salad. I really, really love salad. And beets. And hearts of palm, even if they do have a stupid name – those crazy palm hearts. So basically, eating this makes me happy.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy some navel oranges and oil cured olives… tomorrow I feel like heading south, from La Mancha to Seville.