Beets again, really? I know, you must be up to your ears in beets by now (well, at least I am). But, I’m doing my best to embrace what’s still in season, so beets it is. To liven things up, I’ve added some really tasty goat’s cheese, a handful of mache and spicy arugula leaves, onion sprouts, toasted macadamia nuts (more on these in a bit), and a vinaigrette made from pumpkin seed oil. I’ve roasted most of the beets, but also sliced some raw (very thinly on a mandoline). The roasted beets are sweet and tender; the raw are crunchy and mild.
Fresh, raw macadamia nuts still in their shells were acquired on a recent visit to California. Last week I was in San Diego for work, but still managed to find my way to a couple of farmers’ markets (in the evenings), surprise, surprise. And I have to say, am thoroughly jealous of the California produce — from the array of citrus (blood oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes…), several varieties of avocados (beyond the ubiquitous Haas variety), fresh nuts, and even sea urchin (oh so good!) — was like a kid in a candy store.
Picked up a few avocados, a variety called bacon and another called fuerte, in addition to some raw macadamia nuts that made the trip back with me. If you’ve never come across a fresh macadamia nut, they are an extremely tough nut to crack. However, with a little ingenuity (and a hammer) and lots of patience, you can free the nut from its sturdy shell. Macadamia nuts have a high (monounsaturated) fat content, which makes them creamy, and, when they are this fresh, they have a sweetness to them. You can eat them raw or toast them in the oven to heighten their flavor.
Of course, you could just as easily top this salad with your favorite (already shelled) nut or seed.
Pumpkin seed oil is my latest culinary find. Pumpkin seed oil has a deep emerald green color with toasty, pumpkiny flavors. Its culinary and medicinal uses date back hundreds of years. I’ve read that it’s excellent over salmon, seared sea scallops, pasta, grilled vegetables, to finish soups, a dip for bread, paired with mild cheese, and even over vanilla ice cream (with toasted pistachios). There are also squash oils, such as butternut, delicata, acorn, and kobacha that I read about here — can’t wait to get my hands on some of these.
This is Sophia, a goat’s milk cheese from Capriole Farms in Indiana. It’s smooth and silky, and just a little bit earthy/grassy (but in a good and extremely flavorful way). It’s one of my favorite cheeses of all time. I was a frequent customer of Capriole Farms at the Green City Market in Chicago. You can find their cheese at most Whole Foods and some specialty cheese shops nationwide. That being said, there are lots of other great artisanal cheese makers out there. Best to try as many as you can.
And yes, I am completely insane…but I did manage to open each and every one of these macadamia nuts, and they are delicious. The key is to crack the shell open without crushing the nut inside, not an easy feat. I placed the nuts, one at a time, under the burlap so they didn’t fly away, and gave them a few good whacks with a hammer, trying my best to crack the shell without pulverizing the nut inside. Thereafter, roasted them in the oven for about 15 minutes or so (at 325 degrees), until toasty and golden brown.
Don’t toss the beet greens; they can be sauteed in olive oil with salt and pepper.
Beet Salad with Pumpkin Seed Oil Vinaigrette
~8 small to medium beets (chioggia, red, or yellow)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Couple of handfuls of greens (such as mache, arugula, mesclun)
Crumbly Goat’s milk cheese (chèvre)
Toasted nuts/seeds (such as macadamia, hazelnuts, almonds), roughly chopped
Handful of sprouts (such as onion, radish, sunflower, etc.)
Pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette (recipe below)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss all but one or two of the beets lightly in oil. Season with salt and pepper. Wrap in foil, place on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven until fork tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, checking the beets every 20 minutes or so. When the beets are cool enough to handle, slice into bite-sized pieces (no need to peel them). Slice the reserved raw beets very thinly (on a mandoline if possible).
Assemble the salad. Layer the roasted beets and greens, top with the sliced raw beets, goat’s cheese, sprouts, and toasted nuts. Drizzle with dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pumpkin Seed Oil Vinaigrette
1 garlic clove
2 teaspoons shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds
4 tablespoons pumpkin seed oil (or substitute with another nut oil or olive oil)
2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Squeeze of lemon
Pound the garlic with a mortar and pestle (or side of a chef’s knife), with a little salt, until it becomes a pulp. Add the shallot, thyme, and cumin. Whisk in the pumpkin seed oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon to taste.