So, a couple months back I wrote about my newfound love of beets. And while I was enjoying the wonderful world of beets, I also made sure to apologize to all the beet haters of the world and promised that I would cool it on the beet posts for awhile. I did mention, however, that I had just planted a bunch of chioggia beets and said that I would probably post about beets again when I harvested my beets. Well, my friends, that time has finally come. My beets are ready!
But let me back up for a second. As you can probably tell from the above photo, this is no an ordinary beet. Chioggia beets are an Italian heirloom varietal of beet, known for their gorgeous red and white striped flesh (they are also called candy cane beets, which makes perfect sense!). I first heard about this type of beet when I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”. While I had mixed feelings about the book, I did come away from it with a clear understanding of what it means to cultivate heirloom vegetables. Currently the term ‘heirloom’ gets thrown around a lot in trendy restaurants and high end food stores. However, there really is something to be said for planting (and eating) heirloom foods.
I won’t attempt to take on the whole of the American food system today (I’ll save that for another day!). Instead, I would simply like to point out a few major changes that have taken place in the agricultural system. As you can see in the diagram below, the availability of different types and varieties of vegetables has greatly dwindled. Just take beets for an example: 100 years ago, there were 288 varieties of beets. Today, there are just 17 varieties of beets in existence.
(Graphic from Prana.com)
If nothing else, these figures are incredibly sobering. Fruits and vegetables are now bred and modified to be resistant to pests, to last longer on grocery store shelves, and to look more appealing to the eye. While the nutritional value of heirloom vs. genetically modified produce is often debated, I happen to believe that heirloom vegetables simply taste better. I also love the variation and beauty that is often found heirloom varietals: purple, yellow and green tomatoes; black zucchini; candy cane striped beets, and more.
It is for these reasons (and more) that I am personally a fan of heirloom vegetables. If nothing else, I find that they are often much prettier than their hybrid counterparts! (Note: To learn more about heirloom varietals and ongoing attempts to save and share heirloom seeds, visit the Seed Saver’s Exchange)
As for the recipe, I made this salad when I was home alone one evening. I went to my backyard, picked some raspberries, mint, and beets…and an hour later I had an incredibly fresh and tasty dinner (I ate the salad alongside a baguette and Salted Molasses Butter). Sadly, the chioggia beets lose a lot of their candy cane brilliance once you roast them, but they still taste amazing!
Roasted Beet Salad with Raspberry Mint Vinaigrette and Feta
4-6 small to medium sized beets (If you can’t find chioggia beets, red or golden beets will also work)
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh mint
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (could substitute lemon or lime juice)
1 small shallot, minced
Salt & pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled
Roast the beets: To roast the beets, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and trim beet greens off (reserve for other use), leaving 1/4 inch of the stems in tact and leaving the skins on. Wrap each beet individually in aluminum foil and bake until tender when pricked with a fork or knife (30-45 minutes). The times will vary depending on the size of the beets. Set beets aside and allow to cool. Once cooled, peel off beet skins. The skins should come off easily when rubbed with a paper towel (or you can just use your fingers).
To make the vinaigrette: Macerate raspberries and mint in a small bowl. Whisk in shallots, olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper. Add more olive oil if you desire a thinner consistency. Allow vinaigrette to set for 30 minutes or more, to allow the flavors to meld together.
To assemble the salad: Slice cooled beets into quarters, and arrange on a plate. Sprinkle crumbled feta over the beets, and drizzle raspberry vinaigrette over the beets and feta. Garnish with fresh mint. Serve immediately. (Note: this beet salad could be served atop a bed of arugula, spinach, etc.)