There are certain foods and dishes that can help define the era they’re from: turn-of-the-last-century Waldorf salad, for example, or Eisenhower-era TV dinners pitched to liberate America’s housewives. There’s Chicken Marbella, star of the Silver Palate Cookbook, and latchkey kid-friendly Jell-o pudding (1980s), or expense-account sushi washed down with premium vodkas during the flush 1990s. “America Eats“, an unpublished compendium of recipes researched by WPA writers and photographers, functions as a meta snapshot of the 1930s and 40s: the recipes archived and the New Deal project itself.
(Yes, somebody’s been reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. I’m totally overreaching for cultural signifiers today, but I can’t help it. The book is on my brain.)
I think down the line, if we’re to draw a picture of cuisine in the 2000s (the aughts? Did we ever decide on a catchphrase for this decade?) it will look a lot like a roasted beet salad. Familiar to anyone who’s gone out to dinner in the past five years, the salad is usually topped with crumbles of goat or blue cheese and chopped walnuts, dressed in a vinaigrette. (You probably ordered it before the braised pork belly, that recession-era comfort food. Who worries about intractable wars or pink slips when they’re working through a melting hunk of slab bacon?) It’s a farm-to-table, locavoracious salad that speaks of farmer’s markets and a humble simplicity. (And yes, I’m looking at you, Wall Street.)
Roasted beet salads are also delicious (not to mention eye-catching, bejeweled with those fuschia-ruby wedges), which is why nobody’s quite tired of them yet. I still order it nearly every time I see it on a menu. And at home, beets can be stored for well over a week in the fridge (or months in a root cellar) and roasted several days ahead in advance, a plus for entertaining.
Since you’ve already got friends coming over, add an uncomplicated app to the menu by roasting garlic when you cook the beets. (Wrap whole heads of garlic in foil packets with a bit of olive oil for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees.) See here for crostini ideas, or serve the roasted garlic as is with good, crusty bread and cheese.
Who knows what tomorrow and the next decade will bring? I tend (like Franzen, once you cut through the scathing family dynamics and the satire) to be an optimist in most matters. At the very least we’ve got each other, and today we’ve got earthy-sweet roasted beets. Looks pretty good to me.
Roasted Beet Salad
adapted from Deborah Madison’s The Greens Cookbook; serves four to six
- 1 lb small-ish beets of similar size, greens and taproots removed
- 1 Tbsp sherry or red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp walnut oil
- 4 Tbsp olive oil (plus additional for roasting beets)
- 1/4 C shelled pistachios or chopped, toasted walnuts
- a handful of good goat or blue cheese, crumbled (I especially like Cypress Grove‘s Humboldt Fog, if you can find it)
- salad greens (about five ounces; a spring or chicory mix works well)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub each beet with a small amount of olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil. Place foil packets on a baking sheet and roast for about 1 hour, or until a paring knife can pierce the beet with no resistance. When cool enough to handle, use paper towels to scrape off the skins (mind your hands and clothes; beets will stain). Cut into quarters or wedges or coins.
Mix the next five ingredients for a vinaigrette. (Adjust salt and vinegar to your liking.) Toss lightly with remaining ingredients (you may have vinaigrette left over) and serve.
Note: Beets can be roasted ahead and refrigerated up to three days. For a side dish, omit the salad greens and toss with some of the vinaigrette while the beets are still warm. Serve warm or room temperature.