This week I got a hankering to do something gourmet- something artsy, something you could see in a top restaurant. I hadn’t decided on a main ingredient, and then I decided to make a trip to my local farmers market.
All kinds of beets are fully in season right now- and the second I saw them I knew they were the one. At a stall covered in fresh green leaves, dirty blue potatoes, rainbow chard, fresh tomatoes and herbs, I plucked a bunch of fresh assorted beets. Most people think of the standard blood-red/purple beets that stain your hands and come in fresh salads and dehydrated as chips in the grocery store, but there’s several other kinds.
In my bundle I got some candy-stripe, which are a pink and white striped color, and golden beets, which are the orange-yellow color of a carrot and don’t bleed like the typical dark red ones. Not only was I excited to use all three types of this ingredient, but I also wanted to try and stretch the whole beet plant in as many ways as possible, so I used not only the roots but also the stems and the leaves. I’m a big believer that there should be minimal to no food waste in restaurant kitchens, so I tried to put my money where my mouth is 🙂 .
So! Get ready- this is the most gourmet, restaurant-y and beautiful dish I have ever made, and I am incredibly proud of it. It’s also, at the risk of sounding cocky, one of the best things I have eaten. The combination of a meaty and earthy beet cooked in butter with a beet-leaf pesto, tangy/salty chèvre cheese, pickled beets and candied walnuts is reminiscent of the flavors of a beet salad but the flavor is 500 times better. The dish sings, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
So let’s get started, shall we?
To make the fondant beets:
2-3 beet root bulbs, peeled and washed
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
In a small saucepan, melt 1 stick of unsalted butter over medium heat until it starts to bubble and slightly brown. Add 1 tsp of worcestershire sauce and mix. Finally add your whole peeled beets in the butter mixture and turn the heat down to low. You’re going to gently simmer them in the butter sauce for 90 minutes until they are fork tender and deliciously buttery and nutty. So, keep that on the stove, set a timer, and forget about it! Just make sure you check occasionally to prevent the butter from burning.
To make the beet leaf pesto:
5 cups of beet leaves, de-stemmed
1/2 cup lemon infused olive oil
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
1/3 cup parmesan reggiano cheese
1/4 cup lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
This element will take some prep, so it’s a great idea to get this out of the way when you peel and prepare all of your beets.
Remove all of your beet leaves (about 4-5 cups) being careful to discard any stems to prevent the leaves from taking on a bitter flavor and discoloring the beautiful green pesto. It took me a while because I was being super careful and nit-picky, but go at your own pace.
Heat a large pot of water to boiling over high heat.
While that is heating up, place all of your beet leaves in a colander and wash liberally with water, making sure to clean off all the imperfections including dirt, bugs, etc.- they were in the ground so you don’t know what’s been on them!
Prepare a large bowl which we will blanche the beet leaves in once they cook for just mere seconds. You want to fill it with COLD water, as cold as you can get, and adding ice helps.
Now, put all of your washed leaves into the boiling water and stir, cooking for about 30 seconds. Immediately take them out of the water with a pasta strainer and place to shock in the cold water.
Once this is done take the beet leaves out and pat dry with a paper towel.
In a large blender, add the 5 cups of dried cooked beet leaves, olive oil, walnuts, cheese, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Now, place on the lid and blitz it up!
It should take less than 30 seconds to become a nice thick pesto. You may need to stop occasionally and scrape down the sides to get all the leaves to combine.
Place the pesto into a bowl, cover, and let cool in the fridge until needed.
To make the chèvre pesto mousse:
1 5 oz container of fresh chèvre
1/3 cup reserved beet leaf pesto
Salt and pepper to taste
So traditionally in a beet salad, you have beets, greens, walnuts and goats cheese. Chèvre is a type of goat cheese which is lighter in texture in flavor and super savory and delicious. When I went to the farmers market, I saw an beautiful array of cheeses at Mystic Chèvre, and I tried every single flavor on crackers.
I went with this amazing “English Thyme and Olive Oil” because it had such an amazing texture and a delicate herb flavor. This would be so good on its own, on crackers or on bread, but it’s even better in this gourmet beet salad we are trying to make.
The one thing it lacked was a salty/nutty kick, so I thought adding the pesto would be perfect and marry into the best cheese spread ever. I was right- just mix this whole container in a bowl (about 5 oz) with 1/3 cup of the beet leaf pesto, season to taste and you’re good to go! Luckily I had some left over and ate it on crackers the next day, and it was delicious!
Set this to chill in the fridge until you are ready to plate.
To make the pickled candy stripe beets and roots:
1/3 cup candy stripe beets, squared and sliced
1/3 cup beet stems, cut in 2 inch pieces
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 tbsp salt
In a standard mason jar with a tight fitting lid, place your sliced 2″ candy stripe beet rectangles and some of your beet stems. At this stage you can also add some seasonings to the beets for pickling, like coriander seeds, black pepper, bay leaf, lemon peel, etc. but I wanted to keep it simple and let the pickling liquid do it’s thing with the sweet beets.
In a small saucepan over medium/high heat, combine water, vinegar, sugar and salt. Bring this to a boil and immediately pour the pickling liquid into the mason jar. Being careful not to burn yourself, place the lid on tight and set the mixture in the fridge to chill for at least an hour until it is cool to the touch.
To make the candied walnuts:
1/2 cup whole de-shelled walnuts
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 tbsp allspice
This is actually the first time I have made candied nuts and I was really excited about it for some reason. One of my favorite foods in the world is the candied cinnamon almonds at Disney World- you can find them at Magic Kingdom usually in a small red cart that just says “nuts.” My family and I used to get these every time we went to Disney because they are insanely addictive. They have a sugary crunch and a nutty flavor and I could eat a whole cone full of them right now.
So for this recipe I wanted to try and recreate this texture with walnuts, one of the main components of a beet salad. I recently saw a method of candying peanuts by basically cooking them with dry sugar in a pan and the sugar eventually caramelizes and coats the nuts. So, I tried this with the walnuts and a little bit of all spice for some savory-sweet flavor, and they could easily rival the almonds at Disney.
In a medium saute pan over medium heat, combine the nuts, sugar and allspice. The key to getting them perfect and caramelized is to stir constantly. At first they seem like a sandy mess, but I promise the sugar will start to melt and coat the nuts perfectly.
This should take about 5 minutes in total. When they look good to go, pour them onto a silicon baking sheet to cool. This will harden the sugar and the nuts will become brittle-like and delicious. Sprinkle on a little bit of salt to season when the sugar is still hot.
Set them aside for plating.
To make the fried beet chips:
Sliced beet roots
1/3 cup canola oil
Salt to season
This step is pretty straight-forward. The purpose of this element is to provide more crunch and color, and frying beets like this really brings out their savory flavor and tones down the sweetness.
Earlier I prepared several red and golden beets by slicing them very thinly with a knife. If you have a mandolin that would work much better/faster but it’s unfortunately the one tool I lack in my kitchen arsenal, in addition to a sous vide machine and an ISI gun (they’re on my Christmas list).
Heat the oil in a small pan over high heat for a few minutes until smoking hot.
Throw the beet chips in, being careful to avoid splashing oil, and cook for about 30 seconds to a minute until they are golden and nice and crisp.
Place them on some paper towels to cool and season with salt.
To make the beet-stock dressing:
All of your discarded beet greens/stems/skins
2 cups water
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup fresh orange juice (1 whole orange)
1 tbsp salt
1/3 cup dijon mustard
1 tbsp lime juice (1 lime)
1/2 cup olive oil
Now, this recipe has already been complicated and we’ve made several things, so this is totally optional. But, because I wanted to make sure and not waste any of my beautiful beets, I found a perfect use for them- beet stock!
Just like you would make a chicken/beef stock, take all of your scraps of stems, leaves, shavings, etc and throw them into a sauce pan. Heat over medium and stir to prevent burning for a few minutes.
Next, add your water, vinegar and orange juice. This liquid will cook over time and absorb all of the beet flavor and become a nice red stock. But because the scraps of beets tend to be more bitter, we added some orange juice to sweeten it up a bit.
Cook the stock on medium-low for about an hour until the flavor is really deep and developed and the liquid is a bright red.
When you are finished with the stock, strain all of the scraps out into a fine-mesh sieve and into a bowl. Place the hot stock in the fridge to cool down for 20-30 minutes.
Next, to make the dressing, take about 1/2 cup of the reserved cooled beet stock and add it to a tall mixing cup like the one pictured. Mine came with the immersion blender I have, which is what we will use to mix the dressing.
Add your mustard, lime juice, salt and olive oil and blend on high for 30 seconds to a minute. It should slightly emulsify and come together, making a delicious bitter/sweet/tangy dressing.
I used a minimal amount on the dish because it’s so strong, but it would be great to save to use as a salad dressing, toned down with some yogurt.
So! After all that, we are ready to plate the dish!!
First grab your plate and smear a small amount of the beet leaf pesto in a rectangle (we’re going to build the dish on top).
Next: Don’t forget about your fondant beet steaks, the main element! After simmering gently in butter this whole time, they should be super tender but still hold their shape, and they will have developed a nice golden brown exterior from contact with the pan.
Place 3 of these small beet “steaks” on top of the pesto. Next, add quenelles of your pesto/chèvre mousse, the candied walnuts, beet chips, and the pickled stems/candy strip beets.
Finish the dish by spooning a small amount of the beet dressing on top in small dots around the center of the plate for flavor and color. It should look something like this when you’re done!
Again, I have to say, this whole blog thing has really helped me learn a lot more about myself as a chef and as an artist so far. This dish is easily my best work and it photographed like a dream. I loved the color palate of yellows, bright greens and pinks/reds from the beets. On top of that it tasted amazing, like the first course of a degastation menu that is just satisfying enough but makes you crave more.
It is my ultra-modern beet salad, and I’m so proud of it. Try making it yourself and you are in for a big treat.
Till next time!