When it comes to vegetables that invoke strong opinions beets are right behind brussels sprouts and cauliflower- you love them or you hate them. Growing up my exposure to beets was limited to thin slices of canned pickled beets on top of a salad. To my young palate the jury on beets was still out. They were neither distasteful or delicious and I probably ate them just because they turned my salad pink (a selling feature for any seven-year-old girl). It was only years later when dining out more frequently that I began to consider my opinion of the beet. Mr. B fell squarely into the “hates them” category, declaring that they taste like dirt. However after encountering roasted beets mixed into fresh salads with goat cheese, I decided that I rather liked the earthy flavor of beets. Still, with our difference of opinions, beets never made it home from the grocery store. Then enter the CSA- otherwise known as the forced-program-to-eat-more-vegetables. Each week this summer we received a huge box of assorted vegetables that had to be eaten or face a slow death in the crisper. Since I hate to let any vegetable die a slow death, I found myself faced with the challenge of cooking fresh beets.

After much internal debate I settled on a recipe for a beet salad with a stunning presentation. Tiny cubes of roasted beets are tossed with a shallot vinaigrette and then layered with crumbled goat cheese. A handful of fresh mache or arugula perches on top of the beets while pistachios are sprinkled around the salad. I choose this recipe for a few reasons: one, because it was pretty (yes my seven-year-old girly self is still alive and well!); two, because the texture of small pieces of beets would likely be less distasteful to someone who does not like beets; and three, because Mr. B can go through a pile of pistachios like a starving squirrel. I figured if nothing else the pistachios would win him over. And wouldn’t you know- it worked! Not only did Mr. B try the beets, but he ate the entire salad and declared that the beets were indeed delicious.

This salad can be assembled ahead of time and would make a fantastic dinner party dish. If you are not feeling up to a fancy-pants presentation it is also just as satisfying in a deconstructed form for a light lunch. What is your opinion on beets? Are you a lover or a hater?

Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Pistachios (Printable Recipe)
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, December 2002
Serves 8

3 large red beets (1 2/3 lb without greens)
2 large golden beets (1 lb without greens)
1/4 cup minced shallot
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup pistachio oil (walnut oil or even olive oil can be used in a pinch)
4 oz soft mild goat cheese
3 tablespoons salted shelled pistachios (not dyed red), coarsely chopped
1 oz mâche (also called lamb’s lettuce), trimmed (4 cups) (or arugula)

Special equipment: a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter (without handle; at least 2 inches high)

Preheat the oven to 425°F with a rack in the middle.

In separate bundles wrap the red and golden beets tightly in double layers of foil. Roast the beets in the oven until they are tender about 60-90 minutes. Remove the beets from the oven, carefully unwrap the foil and let them cool enough to handle.

As the beets are cooling, whisk together shallot, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Pour the oil into the bowl in a steady stream while whisking to incorporate.

Once the beets are cool enough, trim off the ends and then slip off and discard the skins. Keeping the red and golden beets separate, cut the beets into 1/4-inch dice and set them in separate bowls. Pour 2 1/2 tablespoons of dressing into each bowl and gently toss to coat the beets.

Set the cookie cutter in the center of 1 of 8 salad plates. Spoon one eighth of the red beets into the cutter and pack down with your fingertips. Crumble 2 teaspoons of goat cheese on top, then add one eighth of the golden beets, again packing them down with your fingertips. Gently pull the cutter up and away from the stack of beets. Repeat with the remaining seven servings. Drizzle each plate with 1 teaspoon of the dressing and scatter a few pistachios around the salad.

Toss the mâche or arugula with just enough remaining dressing to coat and gently mound on top of beets. Serve immediately.

Do Ahead:
The beets can be roasted and diced 1 day ahead and then chilled, covered. Bring the beets to room temperature before using. Molded beet salad (without mâche) can be assembled 45 minutes ahead and kept, covered, at cool room temperature.

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