I didn’t mean to make this beet salad for Thanksgiving. And when I was looking for a place on the buffet at my parents’ house, alongside the carved turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and other holiday dish royalty, it wasn’t entirely an accident that I sorta kinda placed it on a neighboring table where maybe nobody would see. (All the more leftovers for me the next day?)
I made the dish almost as an afterthought. One of the occasional Thanksgiving traditions in our house is heading up to Blooming Hill Farm in Orange County with our friend Todd the day before, to have breakfast and do some last-minute produce shopping. Their produce is exquisite, as are the dishes they serve in the neighboring restaurant. Look how gorgeous Todd’s salad was:
There’s a special place in my heart for an A+ winter salad. It’s easy to create something beautiful and flavorful in the summer, with all its show-offy corn and tomatoes and greens that taste like actual greens with no refrigerator-flavor aftertaste. With a summer salad, I’m not asking for much more than something that tastes delicious. A cold-weather salad, though, has to work much harder. In addition to being, you know, good, a salad that graces the dinner table in early December has to also compensate for the leafless trees and the salt-stained concrete and the general frigidity of a gray New York winter stretching before us. (No pressure winter salad!)
The good news is, even though the salad is working harder to make you happy, you don’t have to work harder to actually put the thing together. As with all salads, all year long, when you start with produce that is this fresh, you barely have to add anything to make it sing. In the case of my beet salad, I quick-pickled some of the farm’s red Napa cabbage (you can use regular Napa cabbage) and tossed it in with the roasted beets, scallions, salt, pepper, good olive oil, and some dill.
I let the pickles sit overnight in the red-wine vinegar based pickling liquid , which helped deepen the already beautifully pink-hued cabbage. (The jar is from Ikea.) But you can use any vinegar you want — there’s a whole section on this on page 141 of How to Celebrate Everything if the spirit moves you. But here’s the step-by-step for what I did.
Roast Beets with Pickled Cabbage
Note: I tripled the pickling recipe to have enough liquid to cover my cabbage in my randomly large Ikea jar, but you can play it by ear depending on your own jar situation. This serves 4-5 as a side dish.
5-6 cups roasted beets (below)
1 cup pickled cabbage (below) or more to taste
1/3 cup fresh dill, chopped
3 tablespoons good quality olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (light green and white parts only)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
In a salad bowl, toss together beets, pickled cabbage, dill, olive oil, scallions, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
25-30 small beets, mixed varities/colors, as evenly sized as possible, unpeeled
Drizzle olive oil
Wrap beets in two foil packets and roast at 375°F for 1 hour 45 minutes. Open packets, letting steam escape, and allow to cool. Once cool, slip skins off with your fingers, rinse, dry and quarter each beet as shown.
1 bunch Napa Cabbage, separated into leaves and wedges (if you can find the red one, amazing! But regular Napa will work)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
Place cabbage pieces in a jar. In a small saucepan, simmer 1/2 cup water with remaining ingredients until sugar dissolves. Let pickling liquid cool slightly, then pour over cabbage. Let them steep as long as possible. They’ll be zingy after 10 or 15 minutes if you need them right away, but it’s ideal to let them sit in their liquid overnight. (I’d only keep them around for a day or two; these are not real long-term pickles where you have to follow safety rules and drop jars in boiling water using tongs and stuff.)
Don’t you feel brighter, better already?