August 5, 2011

The Lunch Box: Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

For several weeks now, I've been eyeing the beets at the farmers' market. Over 4th of July weekend, MG's aunt made a fantastic roasted beet dish with walnuts and goat cheese, and I've been wanting to do something similar for lunches ever since.  So, when a recipe for a salt-roasted beet salad appeared in my Google Reader feed, I decided to put my plan into action for lunches this week.

Last Saturday morning, MG and I headed over to the Great Commonwealth of Virginia (as a member of the bar there I'm required to call it that) (just kidding) (sort of) to check out the farmer's market at Courthouse and procure some beets. It was great! Not quite as extensive as the one at Dupont on Sundays, but I did notice that prices on some items were a little more reasonable. And breaking from routine is always a fun thing to do on a weekend morning, so we'll probably go back from time to time.

But on to the salad! The recipe I found called for salt-roasting the beets with fresh thyme, and then making a salad of baby spinach, arugula, beets, barley, walnuts, goat cheese, and topping the whole thing off with a creamy lemon and vanilla buttermilk dressing.

Starting off with my produce and other necessaries. (Balcony garden thyme!)

Getting ready to roast, with some kosher salt and sprigs of fresh thyme.

I didn't have barley, but I did have quinoa, which I had yet to cook with. Now seemed as a good a time as ever, and a great way to put some protein into my salad! Turns out it's incredibly easy to make, and a good "blank slate" grain, just like rice or cous cous. I'm excited to try it out in new variations.

Looks kind of like cous cous! But yummier. And healthier.

I could not resist these suckers at the farmer's market. 
So sweet and flavorful, you'd wonder how anyone could NOT realize they are actually a fruit.

After roasting, the recipe said to "slip skin from each beet." 
Turns out this is just as easy as it sounds - they just peel right off!

Gloves would not have been a bad idea here. 
I didn't have gloves, hence the Dexter-like appearance of the kitchen counter.

All packed up the night before for an easy Monday morning.

The final product: spinach, red onion, roasted beets, quinoa, walnuts, goat cheese, yellow cherry tomatoes. Although I enjoy a good creamy dressing from time to time, I felt like the dressing in the original recipe would be too heavy for the different flavors already in the salad, so, sticking with the lemony theme, I whisked together a simple vinaigrette with lemon juice, red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.  Light and acidy, it worked perfectly!

Salt Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad
Inspired by the Guilty Kitchen

Serves 4.

1 lb. beets, whole with skins on and tops and tips removed
3 sprigs fresh thyme
kosher salt
1/2 cup quinoa, uncooked
4 oz. crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 whole red onion, thinly sliced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
6 cups baby spinach
juice of 1 lemon
1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar (I eyeballed this)
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (I eyeballed this, too)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F.

Spread a thin layer of kosher salt in the bottom of a glass baking dish.  Place the beets and the thyme in the baking dish, cover with aluminum foil and bake for one hour.  When the beets are done, you should be able to easily insert a knife into them. Allow the beets to cool for 10-15 minutes, then peel off the skins. Chop into bite-sized pieces (not too specific's your salad!)

Meanwhile, prepare the quinoa.  Put 1/2 cup of quinoa and 1 cup of water in a medium pot and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed. The cooked quinoa will still have a bit of a bite to it, but shouldn't be overly crunchy. Allow to cool completely before preparing the salad.

When the quinoa and beets are done, prepare your salad! This is the fun part. For mine, I put about 1.5 cups of spinach in my bowl, and topped it with 1/4 of the cooked quinoa. Then I put on my sliced onion, the beets, 1 tbsp of chopped walnuts, 1 oz of goat cheese and halved my cherry tomatoes before putting them on last. I really like the way my combo came out, but you can absolutely play with the ingredients. Like pecans instead of walnuts? That'd probably be good too.

For the dressing, I just whisked together the lemon juice and red wine vinegar in a small bowl, and then slowly streamed in the olive oil while whisking to make the emulsion. Dress the salad and enjoy!

A couple of notes on making this salad for work lunch: 1) it's a good one to take to work, because you can assemble it the night before. I put the dressing in a separate small tupperware so that the salad wouldn't get soggy. 2) However, the beets are, well, beets, so while the salad held up nicely, the goat cheese was a little more purple when I opened up my lunch on Monday than it had been the night before. Not a problem for lunch, but if you're making the salad to serve guests, you might want to wait until the last minute to top with the goat cheese. 3) There are a lot of awesome flavors going on in the salad, so I found that a little of the vinaigrette went a long way. 4) The quinoa, nuts and cheese make this a pretty protein-rich salad, so I found that I didn't need anything on the side besides a small plum! But, of course, a slice of whole-grain bread would be delicious too, you just might find you're too full to finish it!

This salad was definitely a winner and will be making it into the summertime work-lunch rotation. If you make it, let me know what you think! And now, I'm off to eat up the last serving of my salad.

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