It’s the dead of winter, when one’s tastes go to deep earthy root vegetables such as beets and lentils. Never mind that it’s 70 degrees in Los Angeles! That makes exploring urban farmers’ markets for candy cane beets and other colorful vegetables all the more fun.
Beets and lentils do make a great combo, but deep purple beets and dark lentils make for pretty muddy colors. Enter the golden beet and the candy cane beet! Golden beets are getting easier to find at both farmers markets and grocery stores. Candy cane beets remain a bit elusive, but when found, they can be thinly shaved using a mandolin slicer over salad for a pop of color. Never cook these beautiful beets, as the striped color will fade away.
And what makes people happy about salads are the different crunches and textures. A salad of just lettuce is a vegetable dish in Italy. Enter creamy Pecorino and a gremolata made by substituting crushed hazelnuts for garlic! That extra crunch will make you happy in January.
Here are a few tips for making this dish:
- Use Puy or French green lentils. Brown lentils are wonderful for soup—they fall apart as cooked. These lentils will hold their shape when cooked.
- Steam the golden beets. As much as I love the taste of roasted beets, steaming beets will better retain the bright golden color.
- Remove the pecorino cheese from the refrigerator before use. Using a vegetable peeler on cold cheese leads to a broken crumbly mess.
This recipe makes 4 first course salad servings.
Ingredients and Directions:
- 1 cup Puy or French green lentils
- 2 cups of water or chicken broth
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly smashed
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 small golden beets
- 1 candy cane beet, peeled and thinly shaved on a mandolin slicer
- A mild Pecorino cheese such as Pecorino Toscano
- Bunch of watercress or baby arugula, trimmed and washed if needed
- Zest of 1 lemon, reserving lemon for dressing
- 5-10 sprigs of Italian parsley, finely minced
- ½ cup roasted and hulled hazelnuts, cooled and finely chopped
- Good quality olive oil
- Steamer insert for a deep pot
- Mandolin slicer
- Vegetable peeler
- Microplane zester
- Prepare the lentils: place the lentils, broth (or water), thyme sprig, smashed garlic clove and bay leave in a small pot. Bring to boil and then reduce to a low simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes until the lentils are al dente and not too mushy. Cool briefly and then drain in a colander.
- Prepare the golden beets: place the beets in a heavy-bottom pot with a steamer insert. Fill the bottom with water and place the beets in the steamer. Bring to a boil and steam for about 1 hour. Occasionally check the water at the bottom of the pot to make sure it has not all boiled off. Use a sharp knife to test the beets for doneness. When done, let cool enough to handle. Peel them with your hands and slice into quarters (or smaller) depending on the size of the beets.
- Place the lentils and beets in the refrigerator until cold.
- Prepare the gremolata: zest 1 lemon into a work bowl and then add the finely chopped parsley and hazelnuts. Season with salt and pepper and stir in a tablespoon of good quality olive oil.
- Prepare the dressing: juice half the lemon into a bowl and add twice as much olive oil as lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Vigorously whisk until the dressing is emulsified. Mix the beets and the lentils in a bowl and add a small amount of the dressing. Lightly toss and return the refrigerator.
- Assemble the salad:
- Lightly toss the watercress or arugula with a little salad dressing and place on the serving plate.
- Top the watercress with the beet/lentil mixture.
- Scatter with the sliced candy cane beets.
- Top with slices of Pecorino cheese created with the vegetable peeler.
- Sprinkle with the gremolata and serve.