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Beets and rhubarb team up for zesty salad

April 08, 2010|By LYNNE CHAR BENNETT/San Francisco Chronicle

When I was a kid, I decided I really did like beets -- but only after I tasted them pickled. The intense, sweet-tangy robust flavor puckered my mouth and almost took my breath away.

Since then, I've eaten beets in borscht, grated raw or thinly sliced carpaccio-style for salads, in risotto and as a warm side vegetable bathed in butter.

I order beets most often when I see them offered in salads, but I am disappointed when a dish billed as "beet salad" arrives as a plate of baby greens garnished with a few beet cubes.

Beet & Rhubarb Salad (not a misnomer) satisfies my beet craving. I've dialed back the intense tanginess of the cider-vinegar-based pickled beets of my youth to create this subtle, more adult version.

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The tartness comes instead from tender spring rhubarb, which needs balsamic vinaigrette to layer a little more sweetness atop that of roasted, earthy red beets. Orange segments -- a standard beet sidekick -- provide an additional counterpoint to the rhubarb, as does the fruity punctuation of raisins.




Beet and rhubarb salad



Serves 3 to 4

The combination of dark purple-red beets and rose-pink rhubarb looks as good as it tastes. Rhubarb's tartness varies, so you may need to add a little more sweetness to the vinaigrette if the balsamic vinegar isn't sweet enough.

1/2 pound red beets

6 to 8 ounces rhubarb

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Agave nectar or honey to taste

1/2 cup raisins

1 large orange, peeled and segmented

8 to 9 radicchio leaves

8 to 9 butter lettuce leaves

3 to 4 tablespoons thinly sliced mixed herbs, such as mint, basil, parsley and chives (see Note)

3 to 4 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts

Chervil leaves (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub beets, then loosely wrap in foil and roast until they are tender and can be easily pierced with a knife, about 40-45 minutes depending on size of the beets. Leave the oven on.

As soon as the beets are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins. The skins come off more easily while the beets are still warm. Canned beets may be substituted for freshly roasted, but the flavor won't be as fresh or intense. Cut beets into medium to large dice; set aside.

Meanwhile, cut the rhubarb into 1/2- to 3/4-inch crosswise slices in similar size to the beets (cut stalks in half lengthwise if needed). Toss rhubarb with oil and roast in the 400-degree oven until tender, about 5 minutes; set aside to cool.

In a separate bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil; season to taste with salt and pepper. Coat rhubarb with just enough of the vinaigrette; taste and adjust with agave nectar or honey, depending on the rhubarb's tartness. Add raisins and accumulated juice from the orange segments. The salad can be made ahead to this point.

To assemble: Select 2 butter lettuce leaves and 2 radicchio leaves for each plate; arrange leaves across from each other with sides touching.

Gently combine beets, rhubarb and a little orange zest if desired. Taste and adjust seasoning; set aside.

Cut away the hard center portion of one or two remaining radicchio and butter lettuce leaves. Roll leaves up, slice thinly crosswise, then toss with the herbs. Moisten with a little extra-virgin olive oil.

Portion the beet-rhubarb mixture in the center of each plate. Cut orange segments into similar-size pieces; arrange with beets and rhubarb. (For less fuss, toss the orange pieces with beets and rhubarb before plating.) Garnish with walnuts, a nest of the lettuce-herb salad and chervil, if using.

Note: To keep herbs fresh, slice just before using.

Per serving: 284 calories, 6 g protein, 42 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat (2 g saturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 72 mg sodium, 7 g fiber.

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