All the Shades of Red

Time has passed slowly and I barely noticed the turning of the calendar pages this year. Seasons have passed and somehow, winter’s presence was lost, outweighed by deeper thoughts and the slowed passing of time. Now that spring and summer have arrived, I am grateful for the color and beauty of garden ingredients.

This is the season of the raw and the cooked, where colorful leaves contrast in texture to dizzyingly bright vegetable roots.

A Vegetable Story

At the moment, I am fascinated by beets. Invariably, at least a handful of each available sort, make their way into my vegetable basket whenever I visit the farmer’s market. The promise of their palette at the table are what compels me to take them home. I love knowing that this vibrant ingredient is actually the hidden root to leafy greens that taste of the earth.

Beetroot, known by its Latin name “beta vulgaris” are part of the botanical family of the Amaranth. They are a coveted vegetable addition to delicate pasta fillings and make for a simply delicious side dish when sauteed in olive oil and garlic.

Like beetroot, rainbow chard is to be found in dark red, yellow, orange and shocking pink. If you close your eyes and bite into a rainbow chard stalk, you will notice the connection.

The most readily available variety is deep garnet in color and decidedly earthy in flavor. Yellow beets have an orange exterior but are light and bright on the inside. Their flavor is more delicate than the more commonly available garnet beet. Yellow beets taste best when blanched in water with a splash of vinegar by the way.

The most beautiful beet of them all, is the scarlet-skinned Chioggia beet. The interior has a circular design of alternating pink and white, which when cut looks like peppermint candy. The Chioggia beet is very sweet and is best eaten raw. It tends to change color quickly so I recommend marinating it with a touch of lemon juice and pinch of salt.

Like beetroot, rainbow chard is to be found in dark red, yellow, orange and shocking pink. If you close your eyes and bite into a rainbow chard stalk, you will notice the connection.

Beets and vinegar go beautifully together. This is why they are perfect additions to summer salads. When roasted, the red beet mellows in flavor; the yellow beet turns pale and almost blush in color; the Chioggia beet however, loses its stripes as the fuchsia-tinted circles in the root fade into the white.

 

Recipe:
All the Shades of Red – Belgian Endive and Beetroot Salad

This salad is a study of color and texture. It is the result of a food experiment involving the pairing of bitter endive with the earthiness of red beetroot. Preparing it was like painting with garnet and ruby tints from the garden. Instead of a canvas, I worked in the kitchen with the edible mixture of the bitter with the sweet.

It was a simple endeavor, mostly involving the gathering of ingredients.

Specific to this recipe, some patience is required while waiting for the beetroot to bake. If you plan to serve the salad the same day you prepare it, start a few hours before lunch or dinner with baking the beets.

Your efforts will be rewarded by a dizzyingly vibrant dish.

Ingredients.

For the beetroot mash.

400 grams raw red beetroot. 2-3 depending on their size
one clove of garlic
50 ml extra virgin olive oil
one tablespoon of blood orange zest, approximately 5 grams
25-50 ml freshly squeezed juice of a blood orange or a lemon will do as well
one teaspoon sea salt flakes
a pinch of dried red chili flakes or a half a fresh red chili
a pinch of coarsely ground black peppercorns

Preparing the beetroot mash

To prepare the beetroot mash, preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius, with the fan on. Scrub the beets with a brush under cold running water, to remove all clay and dirt clinging to the skins. Wrap the beets in a piece of parchment paper and place them in a baking dish. Roast the beets for 40-50 minutes, or until a knife pierces the middle with easily. Remove the beets from the oven and allow them to cool, wrapped in parchment paper.

Meanwhile, peel the clove of garlic. Cut it in half and remove the inner part (also called a sprout), as this is what can make garlic taste bitter. Scrub the blood orange (or citrus of your choice) well in warm water. Peel the outer layer of the orange with a zester and squeeze the juice. Set both aside juice aside. Gather the rest of the beetroot mash ingredients.

Peel the cooled beets with a paring knife, and cut them into a medium-sized dice. Place the garlic, orange zest and half 25 ml extra virgin olive oil in the mixing bowl of a food processor. Blend the ingredients briefly, then add 50 ml orange juice along with the diced beets. Puree the ingredients into a fine paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently. Season the beet paste with sea salt, dried red chili flakes and a pinch of coarsely ground black pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, until the beetroot mash is smooth and glistening. Taste the results of your efforts for the right balance between earthy, salty and sweet elements. Add sea salt, red chili, orange zest or extra virgin olive oil if needed. Place the beetroot mash in a bowl and refrigerate it until needed.

Ingredients.

For the salad.

two-three red Belgian endive, about 350 grams or the same amount of a red bitter lettuce like radicchio
125 grams ripe cherry tomatoes
two fresh figs, or if unavailable, dried figs or apricots
four sprigs of fresh coriander or your favorite garden herb
50-75 ml extra virgin olive oil
50 ml juice of a blood orange or a lemon
a pinch of sea salt flakes
75 grams chèvre goat’s cheese or the same amount of fresh ricotta
orange zest as a garnish

Preparing the salad

Remove the root end of the red endive (or radicchio). Separate the inner leaves from the root as you progress by continuously cutting away the root to separate the individual leaves. The more you peel, the tighter the leaves are wrapped around the root.

Wash the endive in cold water and shake it dry carefully in a seive. Separate the stems from the cherry tomatoes and rinse them briefly, then cut them in half and set aside until all ingredients are assembled.

Wash the fresh figs and cut them in half. Pick the leaves of the coriander, or simply replace the coriander with fresh mint or basil leaves. Prepare a simple dressing as follows. Pour the sea salt and the blood orange juice in a bowl and stir until the salt dissolves. Drizzle the olive oil in a steady stream while whisking it until the ingredients come together into a smooth emulsion.

To assemble the salad, spoon half of the beetroot mash into the bottom of a wide salad bowl. Spread it into a swirl with the bottom of the spoon, then arrange the red Belgian endive to one side, so that the beetroot remains visible. Arrange the cherry tomatoes and figs decoratively around the endive in a way that you find pleasing to the eye. Add green herbs and orange zest curls, then crumble the goat’s cheese or ricotta over the ingredients.

Last but not least, drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over your salad creation. Serve it immediately with your favorite bread, or chill it up to 30 minutes before bringing it to the table.

Suggested combinations

This salad doesn’t need any elaboration, unless of course you are in the mood for adding the crunch of some toasted, crushed almonds. The cheese is not an essential addition, so please feel free to eat it in a purely plant-based version.

Notes

There is some confusion about the words chicory and endive.

Belgian endive is the vegetable featured in this recipe. It is available in Europe in a pale yellow, as well as in a less common red variation. Cultivated in Belgium and the Netherlands, endive is available throughout most of the year in northern Europe. In Dutch and Flemish this vegetable goes by the name of witlof, which translates in English to white leaf. Red-leafed endive on the other hand, is called roodlof.

The more common white-leaf endive is very popular in the winter, especially when baked or braised with butter or melting cheese. Raw endive leaves are beautiful in salads and are often paired with fresh fruit. Before lunch or dinner, I love to serve the leaves with a mixture of olive oil and lemon.

Belgian endive is also known as chicory. Both words are used interchangeably when describing the same delicately bitter vegetable. Part of the same botanical family as the artichoke, endive can be replaced or mixed with red radicchio or oak leaf lettuce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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