Last week we had a friend visiting Los Angeles on her way back home to where she lives in Cambodia. Living in a developing country can be challenging on many levels, not least among them the quest to find familiar and well loved foods. While it’s often preferable, and easier, to eat local food, sometimes after months of noodles, rice, and curry, the cravings for foods from home kick in.
Knowing that she was on her way back, I tried to craft a meal which included many of the things she likes but cannot get there, chief amoung them beets, arugula, and cheese. While this salad would be lovely with the addition of goat cheese, the night’s meal already included home made pizzas with fresh mozzarella and we had a non-dairy eating guest. When we visited our friend in Cambodia last year we arrived with a cooler bag filled with a selection of cheeses and a couple of decent bottles of California wine. It’s the little things which show you care.
We’ve also discovered that in addition to the difficulty in buying certain (uncommon in Cambodia) vegetable like beets, fennel, and arugula, it’s difficult to grow them there (which explains why it’s hard to buy them there. It’s a vicious cycle). Our friend tried to grow both beets and arugula, but either the soil quality or the climate just does not allow for it. I recently learned that beets need a freeze to develop proper sugars which might explain why the ones I grew this past year tasted so God-awful.
This salad is very easy, and except for the roasting time for the beets which can be done the day before, can be assembled in about 10 minutes. I highly recommend using the best quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar you have, since the dressing is so simple, it those two ingredients really enhance the flavors.
6 oz gold beets, roasted and sliced
6 oz red beets, roasted and sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
1 ea shallot, sliced thinly (about 1 oz)
1 oz fresh arugula
1 oz good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/2 oz good quality balsamic vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
How to roast the beets:
Pre-heat oven to 350. Wrap the fresh, scrubbed clean beets in a foil package tightly and roast in the oven for 45 min-1 hour. Do not cut the beets first or all the juice will run out when they cook. When done, and cool enough to handle, peel off the skin of the beets. Hint; wear latex gloves unless you want your hands to be “beet red.”
Slice off the ends off the beets and then cut them into thin circles, about 1/8 inch thick.
Cut the fennel bulb in half, cut off the top, and cut out the hard core and base of the bulb. Slice the fennel very thinly, as thin as you can with a knife, or you can use a mandoline slicer (I do). Slice the shallot very thinly.
Put a layer of arugula on the bottom of the plate. Place a layer of beets in alternating colors on top of the arugula and then a loose layer of fennel and shallots. Repeat with all ingredients, building up the salad in concentric circles.
Drizzle the salad with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.