My family, being Russian, celebrates New Year's a bit differently than most Americans. Growing up, we wouldn't get a Christmas tree, but rather, a New Year's tree. It's a tradition that dates back to the 17th century and one that my family proudly incorporated into our American home. In our family, New Year's was the holiday you always looked forward to most. It was about family, dressing up, eating lots of delicious food, exchanging gifts, toasting the old year and welcoming the New Year. When I was younger, we'd get together with family and friends and cook a massive feast. As I got older, I was eager to proclaim my independence and celebrate on my own - with my friends. At some point, I started going out on New Year's Eve with friends, but our family tradition remained: we'd buy the tree and get together as a family — not always on New Year's Eve or day, but always to celebrate our favorite holiday. Just as we did when I was little, we exchange gifts every year and get dressed up. We open up a nice bottle of wine and/or champagne and we cook something delicious (or go out to a special place).
This year, I hosted our pre-New Year's celebration at my home and I was in charge of the menu. My whole family was going to crowd around our little dining room table and we'd put all of our gifts underneath our little tree. Now that I'm all grown up, I feel honored to be in charge of the menu and atmosphere surrounding such an important occasion. I thought long and hard about what I was going to make - debating between salads, soups, appetizers, mains and desserts. In the end, I decided to mix some serious comfort food (chicken and dumplings) with a new twist on possibly the most Russian vegetable of them all: the beet.
Traditionally the centerpiece of borscht - a soup that can be eaten warm or cold - the beet is humble and grand at the same time. While the beets of my childhood were always red, these days, you can find orange and candy-striped beets that create a beautiful bouquet on a plate. This salad, adapted from a recipe in Tyler Florence's new book, incorporates roasted and raw beets--both red and golden--and gets a special touch of exotic-feeling ingredients like Marcona almonds and whipped goat cheese.
As we dug into our salads, my grandfather told me that in the Russia of his youth, fancy restaurants would often commence a meal with an exquisite beet salad - a treat for diners and something that he has always remembered. When he took a bite of my roasted beet salad, which sat on top of lightly whipped goat cheese, he exclaimed, "This tastes just like beets and sour cream — just the way I like it!" What I loved about this particular salad — which displays beautifully on a holiday table — is that it is both old and new, humble and indulgent. It represents everything that we should celebrate on New Year's Eve.
Turntable Kitchen is a site devoted to connecting food and music. Check out the site this week to find out what the Musical Pairing is for this dish!
Roasted Beet Salad with Whipped Goat Cheese
adapted from Tyler Florence Family Meal
Serves 4 -5
For the dressing:
1 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
salt and pepper, to taste
For the beets:
2 large bunches of beets (golden and red)
a few springs of fresh thyme
freshly ground black pepper
For the whipped goat cheese:
4 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
Marcona almonds, handful to garnish
1/2 cup baby arugula
1. Set aside one golden beet. Roast the rest of the beets: preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wash and trim the beets and place them in the center of a baking sheet covered with a large piece of tin foil. Drizzle the beets generously with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle thyme leaves over the beets. Take another large sheet of tinfoil and place it over the beets. Crimp the edges of the two sheets of foil, creating a pouch. Place the beets in the oven and roast for approximately an hour to an hour and twenty minutes (depending on how large the beets are). To test, carefully open the pouch (watch out for the steam!) and pierce a beet with a fork. It should go in easily, but the beet shouldn't be falling apart. Once the beets are roasted, let them cool.
2. Make the dressing: combine all of the dressing ingredients in a medium-sized Tupperware. Tightly close the lid and shake to mix.
3. Peel the roasted beets and cut them into circles, half-moons or wedges. Peel the unroasted beet and use a mandoline to slice it very finely.
4. Make the whipped goat cheese: combine the goat cheese and olive oil in a large bowl and whisk together under light and airy.
5. To assemble: Smear the goat cheese in the center of 4-5 plates. Top with beets. Drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with almonds and arugula. Serve with a piece of baguette.
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(Images: Kasey of Turntable Kitchen)