Roast Beet Salad with Whipped Goat Cheese, Citrus Oil, and Mint

 
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"You should write a cookbook!"

I hear that a lot, and while I'm always humbled that folks seem to like me and subsequently my food, it seems an incredulous notion to me. Don't get me wrong, I ADORE cookbooks and I'd be lying if I said I didn't care one wit about my name hanging around long after I'm gone in the form of a cookbook, but ...

Well, I don't really have any unique and/or original recipes of my own to share. This is probably due to the fact I'm way busy cooking all of my cookbooks. But you see what I'm saying - a cookbook made up of what I usually cook would be plagiarism. 

Is there really such a thing as an "original" recipe? How far does one have to go back to find the originator of apple pie? I'm guessing a lot of the recipes you and your family enjoy are riffs on some of your favorite childhood dishes, perfected by years of tweaking and adjusting by your doting mothers, aunties, grandmothers, great-grandmothers ... and so on, and so on, and so on.

But I am getting closer to the type of cooking that relies less on recipes and more on instinct, and that excites me! I recently tried out three "new recipes" (that were really non-recipes) on some friends at a little dinner party. I was checking out a restaurant in Salt Lake City that features a tapas-style menu, and three of the dishes interested me enough that I wanted to try to create them on my own. A shaved Brussels sprouts dish sauteed in brown butter, a crispy cauliflower served with a curry aioli, and a roasted beet salad with whipped goat cheese, citrus oil, and mint.

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How do you create a recipe for a dish you've never tasted? Heck, I don't know, but I knew how I wanted them to taste, so I went with that.

Below is the roasted beet salad I developed. I'm posting it first since folks asked for it the most (though the fried cauliflower was the first dish to disappear - this salad is dang good). Lots of folks don't like beets, or they've only ever had them cold and pickled in a salad. I grew up thinking I hated beets until one day I had them roasted. There is still a deep earthiness here, but it's softened and mellowed by the roasting. You could serve the beets on their own, but the additional components really make this dish sing. I hope you enjoy it!

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Roast Beet Salad with Whipped Goat Cheese, Citrus Oil, and Mint

Serves 4-6

Roast Beets

  • 3 bunches small yellow and red beets, scrubbed clean and dried (if you're lucky enough to get beets with the greens attached, trim them and save the greens for a gratin!)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 450°. Toss the beets with olive oil and place them on a large, foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and season with salt. Roast, tossing once, until charred on the outside and tender, 45–50 minutes. They should pierce easily with a fork. Let cool slightly.

Citrus Oil 

  • 2 lemons
  • Pinch of salt
  • About 1 cup decent extra-virgin olive oil

Remove the zest from the lemons in thin strips with a vegetable peeler or a citrus zester, (Take care to avoid the bitter white pith). In a mortar or medium stainless steel or wooden bowl, combine the lemon peel and the salt. Pound and crush the peel with a pestle for several minutes to extract the oils. Use a circular motion to crush the peel against the bottom of the bowl as you dribble in the olive oil a little at a time and continue working the peel this way for about a minute.

Set the oil aside to infuse at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours, tasting it occasionally to gauge its strength, until it is pleasantly fragrant with lemon (If you let it steep too long, it will begin to taste like candy). Add additional olive oil if necessary to balance the flavor. Strain into clean, dry bottles and stopper.

Storage: This oil will keep several months refrigerated.

Whipped Goat Cheese

  • 1/2 cup fresh goat chees
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil (I used the citrus olive oil I made above)
  • 4 tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon rice or white wine vinegar, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste

In a bowl, mix or whisk all ingredients together until smooth. Keep whipping until cheese is fluffy and soft. Taste and season with additional vinegar and salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Assembly

Pick out your prettiest serving platter and spoon the whipped goat cheese onto it. Arrange your beautifully roasted beets on top of the goat cheese, drizzle with the fragrant citrus oil. Chiffonade some fresh mint and sprinkle on top of the beets.