So as we were going over ideas of what we might bring when my husband ever so innocently suggested we bring coleslaw - I had to kindly (with minimal scoffing) shut him down. "What? Coleslaw? I have standards!" Besides, amongst 40 people you know that the potato salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw will most likely be covered by other people. I couldn't bring coleslaw, it was a matter of pride. No, for this event we needed something different and unique but not too out there that no one would want to try it (as I previously discovered most people have a comfort food zone and things like, say, vegetarian chickpea curry dip rest on the outer limits of this boundary).
After much humming and ha-ing we decided on a salad, since it was a BBQ type affair. After looking through different salads finally decided on a version of FoodNetwork chef Giada De Laurentiis' Beet and Goat Cheese Arugula Salad.
I pretty much followed the recipe (which is a rarity for me), the minor exception I made was that I made a balsamic reduction rather than just whisking together the ingredients for the dressing. Which turned out fabulous because it both thickened and sweetened the dressing adding more flavour and a warmth that just can't be topped when combined with anything goat cheese. Mmm I love goat cheese....
What I especially like about this recipe is that it adds the right amount of healthy with just a touch of naughty to satiate ones taste for indulgence.
Now enough small talk - on to the recipe!
You will need:
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons shallots, thinly slice
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 medium beets, cooked and quartered (get a pair of nitrile gloves for this step)
- 6 cups fresh arugula
- 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries
- 1/2 avocado, peeled, pitted, and cubed
- 3 ounces unripened goat cheese, coarsely crumbled
First and foremost (and the longest part of this entire she-bang) is the beets. Select the ones you want to cook - I made the entire bag and jarred the remaining ones. Put them in a pot (skins on) with just enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil and cook for about 45 minutes- they should be tender enough to poke a fork through.
What most recipes don't tell you is that beets are messy business. Once you have cooked your beets, strain out the water and keep them in the strainer in the sink. This is where your gloves come in. To avoid looking like you have partaken in a crime scene, use the gloves to peel off the outer skins of the beets. With a little cold water they should just slide off easily. Be careful not to get the beet juice anywhere because it stains - and if your house is like mine (built in the 80's with horrid kitchen/decor choices) it will never come out of your white - yes white- counters.
Once you have them peeled cut them and set them aside to cool further. In the meantime start the dressing.
Balsamic reduction is just a fancy way of saying heat up your balsamic vinegar and simmer until it reduces, thickening as it does so. Once this happens whisk in the oil, honey, shallots and cumin.
Once finished put cooked beets and enough dressing to coat the beets in a bowl and toss to coat. Lay beets on a cooking sheet and toss them in a preheated oven (375 degrees). Let caramelize in the oven for about 20 minutes.
While the beets are cooking, toss together the diced avocado, arugula, walnuts and cranberries in a bowl.
Once the beets are done caramelizing, remove from oven and let cool. Once cooled toss them into the salad. Add the dressing and crumble the goat cheese over top of the whole affair and you get this:
Awesomeness in a bowl aka a big bowl of awesome
The original recipe serves 4. However I doubled this recipe for use as a potluck item and the increase in ingredient quantities did not change the fabulousness of the recipe.
Also, generally when there is a dressing and foliage involved its best to wait until right before serving to put the dressing on. I can tell you that I was in a pinch and went ahead and put the dressing on before leaving my house. 3 hours later the salad was un-wilted and still tasted great. In fact it was a hit at the party!