I’m notorious for not following recipes. Even my own. I can’t help but mess with things, even perfectly good things. Sometimes it works, others not. I roasted a chicken last week... It was small and I was late getting it into the oven. So I figured why follow the recipe I posted a week or two ago? I'll just cook on 400 convection for the whole time! Needless to say, in 50 minutes I had an overcooked chicken. But still, I’m always on the lookout for an easier way to do something, or figure out how to make something with what I happen to have on hand. A good example is a beet salad I made for lunch a couple of Sunday’s ago.
But first, let me digress. I got a great book for Christmas, called Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work. It teaches you how to use all the cool toys in your kitchen, as well as chemistry behind certain foods and additives. One of the cool ideas was to use your vacuum sealer for blanching vegetables. The traditional method to blanch vegetables is to bring a large volume of salted water to boil, briefly cook (say 3-5 minutes for green beans), then remove the vegetable and put in an ice water bath. Big pot + colander + big bowl = big mess. Their idea is to put the vegetable in a vacuum bag, boil (using a pot that is just big enough) in bag, cool in ice bath. The pot and bowl don’t really even get dirty, they just have water in them. This hit me as a great way to cook beets for a salad, as the typical roasting process is messy and time consuming: trim and scrub them, wrap in foil, roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, cool, then peel and get beet juice everywhere. They are quite tasty, but it takes a couple of hours. I have tried peeling, quartering, and steaming in the microwave, but this makes a pink foam that escapes from the covered dish and gets all over. You can also boil the beets, but it seems that you lose all the red goodness… especially if you drain and use an ice bath to quickly chill to use in a salad. So… I quartered some small beets, lightly salted, put into a vacuum bag in a single layer, boiled in a covered pot just big enough to hold them for about 20 minutes, pulled out, ran under some cold water (since I was using right away I skipped the ice bath). Beets ready to go into a salad in under a ½ hour! And if you didn’t want to use them right away, not problem, they will keep for a few days sealed in the bag in the refrigerator!
So, back to the main story: How to Not Follow a Recipe. I have a perfectly good recipe for beet salad, adopted from a recipe from a White House chef. But it called for roasting the beets, plus fresh herbs I didn’t have, and feta cheese that I didn’t have. And raw onions, which always seem to sharp in a salad. First were the processes changes: boil-in-bag beets (huge time saver) and the onions got a brief ice water soak to take out some of the bite. I changed up the ingredients too: used just lemon juice (I have lots of lemons) instead of lemon juice and vinegar. If I didn’t have lemons, I would have used just the white wine vinegar. I used the herbs that I happened to have on hand: fresh mint, skipped the the parsley and cilantro (I would recommend having at least the mint or cilantro, they both have a strong flavor). I did use the dried oregano it called for (one of the few dry herbs I keep around), but thyme or Italian seasoning would would too, and the cumin, a spice that pairs well with beets, but something I don't normally think of. I used Romaine lettuce instead of spinach (its what I had on hand, pretty much any green would work), and goat cheese instead of feta (again, its what I had… and pretty much my go-to cheeses for any salad are goat or feta). And I changed the ratio of beets to greens to make a main dish salad instead of a side salad. The result? A pretty good Sunday lunch. Had I stuck to the recipe, I wouldn’t have done it. Was it as good? Maybe not quite, but certainly better than just another PB&J sandwich!
Main Dish Beet Salad
½ pound beets (any kind), peeled and cut into bite size pieces
½ red onion thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon (each) chopped mint and / or cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano, thyme, or Italian seasoning (or 1 T fresh)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup kalamata black olives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups romaine or spinach, shredded
1/3 cup crumbled goat or feta cheese
1. Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Lightly salt the beets. Place in a single layer in vacuum bag and seal. Place in boiling water (the bag will puff up), cover the pot if you want. Turn bag over after 10 minutes or so. After 20 minutes, the beets should be cooked.
2. Remove the beets from the pot, and run under cold water. If desired, put into ice bath.
3. While the beets are cooking, put the onion in a small bowl with a few ice cube and fill with cool water.
4. Mix oil, vinegar or lemon juice, garlic, herbs, and cumin into a large bowl and stir together. Drain the onions and add to the bowl along with olives and beets. Toss. Add the greens and toss again.
5. To serve, divide the beet salad onto 2 plates and sprinkle the servings with equal amounts of goat or feta cheese.